Lightning strikes twice for endometrial cancer patient, mom of three

Michelle O’Brien’s mother and sister both had – and survived – breast cancer, so it was a surprise but not a shock when Michelle received her own breast cancer diagnosis in December 2020. What was a shock, however, was the discovery of a second, unrelated cancer: stage III uterine/endometrial cancer, found during routine testing ahead of her mastectomy. Lightning had struck twice.

“It was a ‘it’s getting hot in here’ moment for me,” Michelle reflects.

A mom of three girls, Michelle always stayed on top of her mammograms, but the secondary cancer threw her for a loop. While her mastectomy had already been scheduled by her team at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers, various doctors and specialists analyzed both of her tumors and determined the uterine cancer needed to be treated as soon as possible, which meant breast cancer treatment and surgery would need to wait.

“I’ve never seen anything like the team I was given at Dana-Farber,” Michelle says. “It was a huge team of people comparing notes to figure out what is best for you, and you don’t get that anywhere else. It allowed me as the patient to stop and breathe, and to have some help making decisions.”

Michelle started her first “era” of cancer treatment in February 2020. Under the care of Michelle Davis, MD, and Carolyn Krasner, MD, she had a hysterectomy followed by 18 weeks of chemotherapy and three radiation sessions to treat the uterine cancer. From Needham, Mass., Michelle was able to undergo treatment close to home at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – Chestnut Hill, which had just opened. And while she could not have visitors as the COVID-19 pandemic picked up, she shares that her team, and especially her nurses, became family.

“It’s not just about the medicine at Dana-Farber; it’s about your mental state. They’re thinking about treatment and research, and also how they are going to support you as an individual,” she says.

Era two began in August of the same year, with HER2-positive breast cancer treatment. Under the care of Laura Dominici, MD, FACS; Jessica Erdmann-Sager, MD; and Erica Mayer, MD, director of Clinical Research in Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center, Michelle had a mastectomy and 16 subsequent chemotherapy infusions, 25 rounds of radiation treatment, and reconstruction surgery, finishing with 17 targeted chemotherapy infusions. 

During these different phases, Michelle continued to enjoy her career as a Vice President of Marketing, cheered on her husband, Tom, while he started a new business, and continued raising their three teenage daughters, Kate, Maggie, and Annie.

In July 2023, she crossed the treatment finish line and was declared cancer free. She celebrated by sharing her story at the 2023 WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance, and has plans to give back for more patients like her by running the Boston Marathon® for Dana-Farber as part of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge, alongside her daughter, Kate.

Help support patients like Michelle by joining The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at