Patient Care

A Scientific Approach to Breast Cancer: One Survivor Shares Her Thought Process

Jan. 10, 2020

Having studied biology at the University of Rochester, Lorna Wright, ‘99, knows what a cancer cell looks like. So when cancer showed up on an ultrasound screen after her gynecologist felt a lump during a routine check-up, Lorna knew exactly what it was.  

“It looked like textbook cancer cells,” she says.

Despite feeling confident she saw cancer, Lorna didn’t feel particularly alarmed. A number of women in her family have received a breast cancer diagnosis – although none have died from the disease. She was a bit surprised to face it herself at the age of 32, but her biology background helped her feel reassured.

“I’m used to taking science and research and thinking about it and then applying it to solutions,” she says. “Everyone laughs at me because that’s how I’ve approached cancer.”

Testing showed she had stage 2A ER/PR positive but HER2-neu negative breast cancer, meaning it wasn’t too aggressive, a relief for Lorna. This meant she had a little bit more time to weigh her options. She received multiple opinions for her surgery and looked at the research, which she’d talk about with her medical oncologist, Alissa Huston, M.D. She appreciated Dr. Huston’s willingness to openly discuss the science and the evidence behind various treatment options.  

“I felt like I had choices and I had the ability to make informed decisions,” she says.

Lorna and her husband hoped to have children someday, so she opted for a single mastectomy, preserving her other breast for potentially breastfeeding in the future. After her surgery, but before chemo and radiation, Lorna had eggs harvested and embryos frozen.

Chemotherapy made her tired and it slowed her appetite. She felt exhausted and experienced an unexpected side effect: She lost her voice. But she went back to work at The Nature Conservancy while still receiving treatment. Looking back, she might have done that differently.

“I probably worked too much during chemo. That may not have been the smartest thing,” she says. “At the same time, though, feeling productive and being able to engage with other people is beneficial.”

After chemo and radiation, she started on five years of hormone therapy. Lorna WrightShe made it through by reminding herself it was temporary and by keeping busy with work and with visits to friends in Washington, D.C., and North Carolina. She started a new job at the Genesee Land Trust and took hikes with her husband. Although she didn’t move that fast up the hill, the hikes rejuvenated her.

Whenever she’d check in with Dr. Huston, Lorna would ask if she could stop hormone therapy. Dr. Huston would point to the science that recommended five years, and Lorna would agree and continue. She finished treatment and then turned toward her desire to have children.

In April 2018, Lorna gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl. 

“I was glad we were able to do it and I love them and have fun with them,” she says. “It meant the whole process was done. I was relieved that basically we could go back to living a normal life.”

Coming up on a decade from her diagnosis, Lorna says friends who get diagnosed come to her, asking for advice. She often encourages them to take a sort of scientific approach to as she did. 

“Patients do have options and should ask questions,” she says.