Mary Clure’s birthday is Christmas Eve so it’s always a memorable date. In 2007 the word memorable took on a whole other meaning. It was the year that her birthday would become the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It puts things into perspective,” she said about the experience.
Clure is known on the island for her 20 years of working in real estate. In 2006, she joined Lisa Botiller Wolford as co-owner of Orcas Island Realty. She said what is most important in her life is her family, which includes her husband and their four kids. They currently have one child, a freshman in high school, living at home. She said she has always valued family, but after having cancer she has consciously put loved ones first.
“It helped me to have my priorities adjusted,” she said.
Cancer and the aftermath
Due to a strong family history of breast cancer Clure was diligent about getting regular mammograms, which helped doctors catch her disease early. Her cancer was lobular and ductal carcinoma in situ.
“I was lucky that I got an early diagnosis,” she said. “I didn’t have to have any chemotherapy or radiation.”
After receiving a mastectomy she had reconstructive surgery on her breast. It turns out that for Clure the mastectomy was not as much of a hardship as the complications that came with her reconstructive surgeries. For two years she struggled with the pain of her body rejecting the implant, many trips to the hospital and feeling like she may be doing something wrong.
“I felt guilty and I felt bad for my family for those two years of surgeries that soaked up so much time,” said Clure, who had two kids at home during the time.
In the end she does not regret her decision to go through with reconstructive surgery, she just wishes that she had known more about the possible complications.
“I had no idea how hard it would be,” Clure said. “It was sold as straight forward.”
She said as a woman she does feel as though having breasts is part of her identity, but she respects that every woman may deal with the situation differently.
“I think if something makes you feel good about yourself you should do it as long as it is healthy,” she said. “ I have no judgement about the difficult choices women make for treatment – it’s very personal”
Clure does worry that she is now predisposed to get another type of cancer, but she said she will be better prepared if it happens again.
“Now that I have gone though it once I know I can handle it,” she said.
Because Clure is high risk, she was invited to participate in research trials at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Swedish Hospital. She gives DNA samples twice a year to the programs in hopes of furthering research to improve early detection of breast and ovarian cancer.
For now, she is grateful for her health and for every day that she has with her family. Just the small things like going to her son’s soccer games make her feel happy to be alive. She is also thankful to her colleagues at Orcas Island Realty, whom she calls amazing.
“They showed their true colors,” she said.
Her advice to women is be diligent about getting mammograms and exercise. Her doctors told her that exercise is a big factor in fighting cancer.
“They told me, ‘Exercise tells your body you’re not dying,’” she said.
At 50, Clure walks, practices yoga, Pilates and Gyrotonics and plays tennis and skis. She said yoga really helped her focus during tough times.
“Your breathing can take you to another place,” she said. “If you have a busy brain it can help you settle and focus.”
And after spending years recovering from the drain of cancer and reconstructive surgery, Clure can say “I am 100 percent now.”
And it is that gift of health that she values every day.