‘Knowledge is power’

Breast cancer survivor Armanda O’Leary shares her story in hopes of inspiring others to provide mammograms to women in need.

Armanda O’Leary and her family know firsthand what it means to persevere through the highs and lows of personal health. 

O’Leary is a lifelong Charlotte resident. She’s been married to her husband for 22 years and has raised eight children. Both O’Leary and her husband are cancer survivors. Last year, her husband battled and survived COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic. 

These trying times have been physically, emotionally and financially challenging for O’Leary and her family; yet they remain focused on being grateful for their current state of good health and for the power of early detection.

“Knowledge is power,” O’Leary said. “It has been such a blessing to me. No one should have to choose between having a mammogram and putting food on the table.”

O’Leary is turning her gratitude into action, sharing her breast cancer story in hopes of inspiring others to provide essential breast healthcare to women in need through the Novant Health Foundation mammography fund.

Her breast cancer story

O’Leary was only a couple of weeks away from her annual mammogram appointment when she felt a lump on her left breast. In September of 2014, she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. 

She was at Novant Health Breast Center in Charlotte with her husband and oldest daughter when she received the news of her diagnosis. Her family was emotional but encouraged her.

“My husband kept saying, ‘You’re going to be OK. God is going to bring you through this,’ but it hadn’t registered for me yet,” O’Leary said. “When I stood up to walk out of the office, I broke down. But the team at the breast center offered resources and counseling — really anything I needed to support me during that time.”

O’Leary began her treatment plan that October, which included a lumpectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy and 32 radiation treatments. It was a challenging 12 months, but by September of 2015, she was cancer-free.

COVID-19 hit her family hard

O’Leary’s family was among the first to experience the devastating effects of the global pandemic. In March of 2020, her husband tested positive for COVID-19. He spent 33 days in the hospital and ICU. 

After O’Leary’s 14-day quarantine, her employer expected her to return to work. Understandably, she was emotionally exhausted and overwhelmed. It became clear that, when her husband came out of the ICU, he would need around-the-clock care to make a full recovery.

“I understand that life goes on, but my husband was fighting for his life,” she said. “Unfortunately, I was given an ultimatum from my employer and had to choose between keeping my job and taking care of my husband. I made the best decision I could for my family,” she said.

The decision cost O’Leary her job and her health insurance. But she knows she made the right choice: Today, her husband is doing well, thanks in large part to her dedication to his recovery and rehabilitation.

Help in her time of need

O’Leary has since started a new job, but it does not offer health insurance. When it came time for her annual mammogram this summer, she didn’t know where to turn without insurance. 

Her husband suggested she contact the Susan G. Komen helpline, which referred her to the Novant Health Foundation mammography program. The contributions from our generous community members allowed her to receive a mammogram free of charge, and her results came back normal, giving O’Leary the gift of peace of mind. Now, she is celebrating seven years cancer-free.

“This program has truly been a blessing for me. It helped me during my most trying time,” she said. “The folks who contribute to this fund are sincerely helping people in need.”

You can be a blessing to women in your community by making a contribution through Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation. A gift of $250 is all it takes to provide a lifesaving mammogram to women in need.

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