Ann Mathews – Breast Cancer Patient Story
The Power of Positivity: 26 Years and Going Strong
After her breast cancer diagnosis, Ann Mathews wasn't supposed to live for more than a couple of months. But then those months passed by, and they kept passing. Now, 26 years later, she credits her ongoing survival to her strong faith–and to UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.
Ann is 52 now and doing very well, but in 1990, she received her first cancer diagnosis. With two young children to care for Ann turned to her faith. “I know you're not supposed to bargain, but I told God that I needed to be here to raise my children,” says Ann. She wanted a large family, and she planned to do everything possible to make that happen.
She went to Arnold Palmer Medical Oncology, a partnership of Excela Health and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, to begin her treatment, and there she met Hyoung Kim, MD, a specialist in medical oncology and hematology. Ann and Dr. Kim began a remarkable journey that has lasted longer than most doctor-patient relationships. Surgeries and chemotherapy made it impossible for Ann and her husband to have more biological children, so over the years they cared for 23 foster kids. They adopted four of those children, and Ann says that her love for her family is the reason she fought so hard to live.
When Ann reached the unprecedented 25-year survival milestone, she sent flowers to Dr. Kim's office. Dr. Kim. The staff calls Ann “the Miracle” and sends her to speak with newly diagnosed patients and with people at risk for breast cancer. In her first year of motivational speaking, three people detected lumps in their breasts; one was cancerous. “UPMC saves lives in so many ways,” says Ann. “All those surgeries and two rounds of chemotherapy wouldn't have been worth it if somebody's life weren't changed for the better.”
In 2011, Ann received a second diagnosis of breast cancer, this time in her left breast. Dr. Kim sent her for genetic testing, which revealed that she carried the BRCA1 mutation—information that eventually proved useful for her sister but which was, at the time, a terrifying revelation. Another round of surgeries and chemotherapy followed.
Ann's zeal for life and her determination are inspiring. When the medical staff originally told her that she probably would not live past the two-month mark, Ann said, “First, you don't know my God. Second, I've never been to a Steeler game. And third–and most importantly–I have kids. I'm going to live.” One of the recent highlights of her Steeler fandom was being present at Jerome Bettis's induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Because Ann uses a wheelchair for her hip, she was allowed to join Mrs. Bettis down on the field during the ceremony; she also met the rest of the team.
“I bleed black and gold. I also give all the glory to God–and I am thankful that I was sent to the right doctors. I owe a lot to Dr. Kim and to UPMC,” says Ann.