A Survivor’s Story

Facing down cancer—and living to race another day

After Mary Hinson had four benign lumps removed from her breasts between ages 18 and 21, she decided she wasn’t likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer anytime soon. The disease didn’t run in her family, for one thing. For another, she figured she was too young for the diagnosis.

But in 2002, when she was 37, Hinson went in for another lumpectomy. This time the news was bad. “As soon as the doctor said, ‘It’s cancer,’ honestly my ears started ringing so loud I couldn’t hear.” When the initial shock subsided, Hinson—a park ranger at Lake Mead National Recreation Area—turned her considerable energies to researching the disease. She started meeting other women who had breast cancer and reading everything she could get her hands on.

The outlook seemed grim. She couldn’t find any information on any woman her age who had been cancer-free for five years prior, as she had. And the older women she spoke to had an entirely different kind of cancer.

“I went into this funk, where I was just almost overwhelmed and it felt like someone was sitting on my chest and it was hard to breathe,” she says. “It became very important for me to get as educated as I possibly could and to understand what kind of cutting-edge treatments were out there. I became very insistent in having a voice in my treatment protocol.” Hinson’s children were 2 and 5 at the time. She struggled with the thought that she might not live to see them at 3 and 6.

After eight rounds of chemo and 33 rounds of radiation, Hinson was cancer-free, and she has remained healthy for the past eight years. She continues her work at Lake Mead, raises her children—Jerra, 10, and Tyler, 13—and speaks out on breast cancer treatment and detection. “I’m convinced that I had the results that I have because I found it at an early stage,” she says. “One of the most important things we can do is put the money and the resources into early detection. That’s equally as important to finding a cure, because with many of the forms of cancer if you catch it early enough the cure is a non-issue.”