Kathy Mughmaw loved what she did.
As a psychiatric nurse, Mughmaw had gotten into teaching at Ivy Tech’s Lafayette campus, lecturing for two classes each week and teaching four clinicals. She was involved in initiatives in Lafayette, where she spent much of her time, and in Logansport, where she lived, addressing mental health and homelessness.
And that’s what had to be put on hold for several months after Mughmaw was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Mughmaw, now 57, noticed a symptom of breast cancer last May and scheduled a mammogram the next morning. As a nurse, she says she’s likely more aware of how cancer manifests itself and of the importance of regular mammograms, and had had fairly regular checks for breast cancer.
But the cancer she was diagnosed with was not “the kind of cancer that most women get,” said Mughmaw — she didn’t even feel a lump, the most common sign of breast cancer.
But two tumors smaller than pencil erasers showed up on scans. They were HER2-positive breast cancer.
HER2-positive breast cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a cancer that tests positive for a protein that promotes the growth of cancer cells. They tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer, and less responsive to hormone treatments used on other breast cancers. In about one of every five breast cancers, the cancerous cells make extra HER2 protein, like in Mughmaw’s.
And that type “can be more deadly if it’s not caught,” said Mughmaw.
The cancer found in Mughmaw was early stage, however. She decided to have it treated aggressively, scheduling a mastectomy for Aug. 18, 2012, and pursuing chemotherapy after the surgery.
“Quite frankly, I wanted it gone,” she said.
Mughmaw was the first in her circle of family and friends to develop breast cancer, she said. However, her mother-in-law had died of a quickly progressing ovarian cancer when her two daughters, Mariah and Sierra, were in grade school.