Welcome to Conversations with Cancer Survivors, a Q&A series aimed at teaching people how to detect cancer early and ways to navigate the doctor-patient experience from those who have been through the process. Maura Power is a breast cancer survivor who has become a frequent 15-40 Connection volunteer and ran the 2018 Boston Marathon representing Team 15-40. She talked recently with 15-40 Connection’s Carl Setterlund.
CARL: Hi, Maura. It’s great to chat with you again. You’ve been so helpful providing your insight on early cancer detection topics the past couple years, so I wasn’t surprised you were happy to take part in our new Q&A project! Let’s start off by having you share a little bit about yourself.
MAURA: I teach in the biology department at Quinsigamond Community College. I also teach exercise classes at the YMCA in Southbridge, Mass. I have two sons in college and have a very sweet dog named Lucy. My husband and I both enjoy being very involved with our community.
CARL: You wanted to focus on life before your diagnosis, which is a critical time, because it’s when your actions can make a big difference on whether you detect cancer early vs. later. What did you understand about self-advocacy beforehand?
MAURA: I was not a great advocate for myself before my diagnosis. I did track my health and wellness through maintenance appointments with the dentist, eye doctor and yearly physicals, and I was partially there in the terms of comparing changes from year to year. However, even though I would share any changes in my health from visit to visit, I never even worried about cancer, since I was only in my 30s. Looking back at my attitude, I think I felt that cancer, and other conditions and diseases were for those in the retired and older category. I was very wrong and was blindsided the day I was diagnosed.
CARL: Right. Most cancers are more prevalent in older demographics, but can happen at any age, so it’s good to at least be generally aware of that when thinking about your health. Did you understand the importance of early detection before your diagnosis?
MAURA: I did not know anything about or really understand early diagnosis. I didn’t even have a family member of any age with cancer, or at least not one close to me. I think I already followed the 2-Week Rule as just a way of life on my own. I was busy and didn’t have time to be sick, so I would visit the doctor if my symptoms worsened, but putting all of the pieces together was a skill I surely lacked. Now, being on the other side and teaching others the 3 Steps Detect program, I see how simple it is to understand and how important it is to share as a life skill, because the earlier you can detect cancer or other illnesses, the better.
CARL: Very true. Nobody can completely predict if or when they’ll ever have cancer, so our education is a great skill for people to have in their health and wellness tool belt. For a lighter topic, you wanted to share about your favorite hobby and favorite vacation, but you told me those two kind of blend together into one big answer.
MAURA: Yes. Three years ago, I found myself on a business trip to Ireland. You know that John Denver song (“Rocky Mountain High”) about “Coming home to a place I’ve never been before”? Well, that’s Clonakilty, Ireland for me! I’ve become part of an annual marathon and have returned twice to work and run with one of my sons and my husband. They feel the same way!
This event was the start of another short story in the journal of my life. My passion is running and lifelong fitness, and I believe those go hand-in-hand. This trip just reaffirmed my faith in my passion. Not only did I do my very first marathon on the waterfront of West Cork, I’ve added the Boston Marathon, representing and raising funds for 15-40 Connection. I am also now the race director for our local VFW’s Fourth of July 5-miler (the Leonide J. Lemire Road Race), which is second or third-oldest continually run race in the U.S. after the Boston Marathon!
CARL: Wow! I obviously knew you ran the marathon for us, but I didn’t know the backstory about Ireland. It sounds like a great family tradition!
This Q&A has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Early detection can make a lifesaving difference. Learn more about how to identify and act on cancer symptoms with our 3 Steps Detect education.