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Living through breast cancer

One woman's story

When Molly Zaver, a Wellmark member, found a lump, her instincts told her life would never be the same. “I remember that night, watching my kids play in the backyard,” says Zaver. “I was overcome with this alternate reality. Suddenly my future was uncertain. I was just 35 years old, and suddenly I wasn’t sure I’d live to see my children grow up.”

Talking to Zaver today, it’s clear she has not only come to terms with her experience, but that she has gained wisdom, empathy and even a sense of gratefulness for what she went through.

“The last three years have brought such a complexity of emotions,” says Zaver. “Every step of the way was painstaking. But without this journey, I wouldn’t be able to help others facing the same prognosis.”

Today, Zaver is the founder of Can Do Cancer External Site, a nonprofit organization that works to improve and enhance the lives of breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment in Des Moines, Iowa, and surrounding areas.

How did Zaver get from here to there? Questions and answers:

How did you find out you had breast cancer?

Like most women my age, I rarely performed breast self-exams. I was in the shower one day and my hand brushed over something. I realized immediately that it was a lump, and I knew it wasn’t good.

What was your diagnosis?

Ultimately, I was diagnosed with triple-negative invasive ductal carcinoma, an aggressive cancer that is difficult to treat and has fewer treatment options than breast cancer that tests positive for hormone receptors. The tumor was large, but thankfully the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes. Over the next seven months, I went through mastectomies, chemotherapy and began the reconstruction process.

What was the hardest part?

There were many difficult moments. Thinking about my kids possibly having to grow up without a mother was very difficult. The waiting was extremely difficult and so was the chemotherapy. I was nauseous a lot during the first few months of chemo, and I couldn’t think or process information the same way. I had “chemobrain,” a side effect of chemotherapy, which includes intermittent short-term memory loss, and difficulty processing new information or multi-tasking.

How did you think you’d react to the chemotherapy, and how did that change?

I knew I’d have good days and bad days. I knew I’d probably feel sick, but I thought I’d still be able to function fairly normally. However, there were days I could not get out of bed. Cooking or taking my kids to their activities? That wasn’t an option some days.

What was the most surprising thing about having breast cancer?

How much I had to figure out on my own. You would think that with all the fundraising events, “pink” products and talk about breast cancer, that there would be all sorts of resources available to help people navigate through breast cancer. But, there really wasn’t. That’s one reason why I started Can Do Cancer.

What can you tell us about mastectomies and reconstructive surgery?

I didn’t start the reconstruction process until after I was done with chemotherapy. The scar across my chest was a daily reminder of cancer. Reconstruction helped me to feel more normal. But, this is a personal choice. Each person has to decide what’s right for them. Reconstruction is a process. It is not a one-time procedure. You continue to deal with the physical and emotional issues, to some degree, the remainder of your life.

What did cancer teach you?

Overall, to be more generous. I had a neighbor who brought me and my family dinner whenever I had chemo. I had a friend that took me to appointments and knitted all my hats. I had friends that would watch my kids, or take them to their activities. My mom filled in for anything I couldn’t do. I appreciated their generosity more than words can say. All of these people are the inspiration for Can Do Cancer.

What has changed you the most?

In the beginning, I absolutely did not want to be a person with cancer. You want so badly to have your pre-cancer life back, but life will never be the same. My goal now is to help other people facing this journey.

Why did you start Can Do Cancer?

I feel like I got cancer in part to see a need and fill a need. My work experience leading up to cancer prepared me to start this organization. But, I knew I couldn’t do it all on my own. We have a diversified team of survivors and others who have been affected by cancer who are part of this organization.

What are your future plans for Can Do Cancer?

We currently serve breast cancer patients and have a pilot program in place exploring other types of cancer in other geographic areas. Who knows where this journey will lead?

Find more information about breast cancer at CanDoCancer.org External Site.

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