Michelle Lemberger

2021 Model Survivor

On a typical Saturday in September, I was blowdrying my hair after spending a hot day at the baseball fields watching my boys play ball. I noticed a difference in the mirror. A dimple in my left breast that didn’t match the right. Hmmm…that wasn’t right. And there seemed to be a small lump there that I hadn’t noticed before.

As an Ob/Gyn, I do a lot of breast exams and I am tuned in to the warning signs and typical findings associated with breast cancer. I knew this warranted evaluation. But, it was Saturday so it would have to wait.

On Tuesday, I asked a nurse practitioner in my office to perform a breast exam. I told her I had felt a lump in one of my breasts and I wanted to see if it was real or if I had made something out of nothing. I also purposely did not tell her which breast it was in. While she did the exam, I watched her face. Her eyes told me I wasn’t imagining it. And it felt different where the lump was compared to other parts of my breast when she was examining me.

I went to the imaging center over my lunch period that day and had a mammogram and breast ultrasound done. I was 41 years old at the time with no family history of breast cancer. This probably wasn’t cancer. I remember the radiologist apologizing for the lump not showing up on the mammogram images. He even showed me the mammogram pictures. I couldn’t see it either. Then he showed me the ultrasound. There is was. An area that was irregular, spiculated, and suspicious. All three descriptors I never wanted to hear about my lump.

It was at that moment I realized this may very well be cancer. Three days later I had a biopsy and the report confirmed it was malignant. I shed a few tears, accepted some fears and made the decision to take this on with positivity. I would not allow myself to ask “why me?” and made it mission to be an example for my family, my friends and my patients. Feeling sorry for myself was not going to be allowed.

I knew treatment was going to be a drain and I wasn’t going to let negativity strip more energy from me. Bilateral mastectomy was my surgical choice and I have no regrets with that decision. Chemotherapy for four treatments started about 6 weeks later. I remember my hair started falling out the day before Thanksgiving. Clumps of it stuck to my hand in the shower. I was so worried I was going to lose hair into the dish I had to take to the family meal the next day.

I was also concerned that I had large spots on my head without hair. I didn’t want to go to work that way. I made my husband, Rodney, get out of bed and make sure I would look ok fo the day. After getting home, he helped me shave it that night. And then he shaved his own head. I embraced bald and let it be another opportunity for patients and strangers to ask questions. I realized having an opportunity to be an example and educate my patients and other people was the “why me?”…MY reason to have breast cancer!

A beautiful soul, fabulous nurse and dear friend of mine, Lori Mansur, decided to organize a Gala in my honor. We decided to put all proceeds toward breast cancer care and research. For three years we held the “Save Second Base Gala”. Our boys played baseball together so the name was perfect for the event.

A total of $30,000 was raised at those wonderful gatherings. It was a great reason to put on our fancy clothes and spend a fun night together. It wasn’t until late 2020 that we finally found the perfect place to donate those funds. Bra Couture KC and the mission to help local cancer patients in Kansas City was exactly what we had been looking for in a charitable organization. Lori and I couldn’t be more honored to put those funds in the hands of Bra Couture KC to distribute. It has been almost 10 years since cancer became a part of my life. I can never repay those who surrounded me with love and support during my treatment and long after. And I will be eternally grateful for the journey that has taught me how to LIVE EACH DAY.