Kelly Donahue’s life changed at a red light. The 37-year-old mother of two was behind the wheel when, as she stretched her sore, workout-weary arms, she felt a lump in her breast. “I knew immediately that something wasn’t right,” recalls Donahue, “and I wasn’t going to wait and see if it went away.”
Soon after her discovery in May 2014, Donahue’s primary care physician scheduled a mammogram for her at the Mass General/North Shore Breast Health Center in Danvers. The results were inconclusive, but an ultrasound taken the same day revealed a mass that doctors later diagnosed as cancerous.
Donahue got the news while on her lunch break at the Saugus elementary school where she teaches. “I felt my world crumbling,” she says. “What would this mean for my husband, or my son and daughter, who were both in preschool at the time?”
After considering all of her options, including a lumpectomy, Donahue decided on a double mastectomy, the surgical removal of her breasts. “I wanted to do as much as I possibly could to prevent cancer from ever coming back,” she says. “I wanted it in my rearview mirror.”
Following surgery, Donahue also needed to undergo chemotherapy. Because she lives in North Reading, she chose to receive her treatment close to home and family at the Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center in Danvers. “I felt so fortunate to be close to home, knowing that my care was the same as it would have been in Boston,” she says.
Her positive experience began at the front door. “From the greeters who held the door for me and the people who checked me in, to my fantastic nurses and doctors, everyone was so unbelievably kind and caring,” Donahue says.
Donahue became an active advocate for her care, bringing a notebook of questions to every appointment with oncologist Amy Comander, M.D. “Dr. Comander never made me feel like she had to get to the next patient. She would answer everything,” Donahue says. “And she would check in with me after my chemotherapy sessions to make sure I was okay.”
Meanwhile, Donahue continued chemotherapy, calling upon the strength so appropriately captured in her name: “Kelly,” meaning “warrior.” “By nature, I am a fighter,” she says. “I stayed positive and zeroed in on getting better. I was determined to make it through this.”
And she did. Now, Donahue, 39, has a new focus—raising money for the North Shore Cancer WALK. She has participated in the WALK the past two years, raising more than $10,000 in 2016. As part of her fundraising, Donahue and her best friend organized the first-ever father/daughter dance in Saugus, filling her school’s gym. The event is now a popular annual tradition. “The Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center saved my life,” Donahue says. “And this is my way of giving back.”