Mary Rottier had just weaned her youngest child in 2015 when she discovered a golf ball-sized lump in her right breast.
At first, she suspected a clogged milk duct.
A biopsy told a different story.
Rottier, of Hesperia, Michigan, had triple-negative breast cancer, which can be difficult to treat. The disease had also spread to her lymph nodes.
A child psychotherapist, she had just turned 40. She felt stunned.
“There is never a good time to have cancer, but it was especially tough with a young family,” said Rottier, whose children were a toddler and a kindergartner at the time of diagnosis.
To top it off, she had two counseling practices, including one in Georgia. Her husband, a commercial airline pilot, often had to travel out of town for work.
Rottier’s oncologist, Mark Campbell, MD, was based at the Spectrum Health Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion in Grand Rapids, but Rottier choose Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial Cancer Center in Fremont for her treatment.
Convenience influenced her decision: Fremont is just a 15-minute drive from her home.
Her treatment began with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, after which doctors performed a lumpectomy to remove the tumor itself. Radiation followed.
Her treatments ended in June 2016 and her cancer has been in remission ever since.
“(Gerber) was wonderful and convenient … I didn’t dread going there,” Rottier said. “It was as positive an experience as you can have going through something like that.”
A year before she became ill, Rottier joined the Gerber Memorial Patient and Family Advisory Council, a group focused on patient care and doing what is in the patients’ best interest. Now she is the council’s vice chair.
“It has been an amazing group to work with,” she said. “They helped with my own patient experience throughout my treatment.”
Shortly after her treatment ended, Rottier made a point to return to Gerber Memorial a few times each month with Jenga, a Shetland sheepdog, to visit with patients—many of whom had already been there during Rottier’s stay.
“It was really neat,” Rottier said. “It helped knowing I have a story, too.”
Jenga, now 14, is also a breast cancer survivor, and soon retiring. Rottier is actively training two other sheepdogs, Fisher and Cali, to take her place.
Cali, who is just 5 months old, has a personality like Jenga’s and promises to be an incredible therapy dog.
“I just love it,” Rottier said. “It’s just really about the people and bringing a smile to someone’s face.”
She has always embraced the idea of “giving back what God has given to me.”
During the past few years, she teamed up with a friend to create goody bags for cancer patients.
Rottier still faces her share of health scares and challenges, but she maintains a positive attitude and looks ever forward with confidence.
“When people hear the word cancer, it’s like doomsday,” she said. “But for me, in all honesty, getting cancer and having treatment changed my life in so many positive ways.
“Cancer didn’t destroy my life. It just helped it fall into place.”