Allyson Mandry, Metastatic Breast Cancer

Allyson Mandry's Story

Breast Cancer Metastasis

Photo Credit: Allyson Mandry

By the time I went to Stanford for my brain tumor, I had already been treated for Stage III breast cancer elsewhere. I was living in San Diego and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017. I had no family history of cancer and when I got my genetics test that year, nothing showed up indicating higher risk for cancer. I went through a double mastectomy, reconstruction, chemo, and radiation. At some point during my breast cancer treatments my husband got a job in Northern California and we moved to the Bay Area, which is how I ended up at Stanford.

In the Spring of 2018, I started noticing that my hand was getting weak. I was having trouble holding a pen or writing, and then I was holding a glass of water and didn't realize I was about to spill it. I went in for testing, and eventually an MRI showed a large tumor in my head. A biopsy confirmed this tumor had metastasized from my breast. I remember thinking this was just horrible, they had found the same cancer in my brain that was in my breast. I was told this was extremely rare for that type of cancer to cross the blood-brain barrier, everyone was really surprised. It turned out that the tumor was sitting right on top of a nerve that controls my hand, hence I was having those symptoms with the pen and the glass of water. The genetics testing I had done revealed I could be treated with a variety of medications, and if I had more metastases they could change the drugs as needed. They gave me a long list of medications and gave me a lot of options.

I can’t say enough good things about Stanford. They saved my life and told me I had options and that I was going to be okay. Dr. Melanie Hayden-Gephart, in particular, was a bright light in my life. She was very empathetic and caring. She was patient and kind. She had this great bedside manner where she was able to be both professional, knowledgeable and confident, but also very caring. I felt really good after talking with her and I was less afraid and more hopeful that I was going to be okay. I remember being very afraid when she told me she was going to have to cut the tumor out. Mostly I was worried that I would be different when I woke up after the surgery; how would my life change? Would I still be able to do the things I love to do? But she assured me I would be the same person, that everything was going to be okay.

I can’t say enough good things about Stanford. They saved my life and told me I had options and that I was going to be okay.

Dr. Hayden-Gephart removed the brain tumor in July 2018. Prior to the surgery I couldn't use my arm at all, it was in a sling. My arm had zero function because not only was the tumor large, but also had a lot of swelling around it. But when she removed the tumor and I woke up, I could move my arm and I couldn’t believe it, I even signed my name when I left the hospital. Over time, I have experienced more hand weakness, which is normal. The subsequent Cyberknife treatments cause swelling and that has affected my hand strength, but I stay positive, I’m optimistic and hopeful that it will continue to improve over time. 


Melanie Hayden Gephart, MD, MAS

I also never received any false hope from Dr. Hayden-Gephart. She always tells me I will be okay, and we will keep following up every three months, and if we find something again we will treat it again, and I will be okay again. She always finds a way to have perspective and make things positive. I still get super nervous and anxious before a follow-up scan, but every time it’s good news I feel like I’ve been given a gift, like I get three more months cancer-free and I get more confident. And I’m finally at a place where I feel that I can shed hope or light in somebody's darkness. I wanted to share my story because there are other women like me who may be going through this, and I want them to know that you can survive this.

Staying positive through this experience is very important. Before this kind of thing happens to you, you think two things. You think ‘this is never going to happen to me’ or you think, ‘if that happened to me, I wouldn't be able to live. I would just never get out of bed.’ When it did happen to me, I had people I wanted to get out of bed for, and get all the treatments for. I did it for my husband and my kids because I was so consumed with how this was affecting their life. My husband kept telling me again and again “you’re going to be okay” and his saying that helped me believe it too. I didn’t want my family to remember me being sad and sick, I wanted them to remember me as a happy and active person. I was doing it for them, and it helped me to get through it. When I was in the hospital recovering from surgery, I missed my kids. I wanted to be home with them helping with homework and making dinner. So, I often think about that now. Some days are mundane and monotonous, but I reflect back on the times I wasn’t there, or I was in bed because I didn’t feel good- and it puts it all in perspective. I’m happy to be alive. I’m grateful for my good health now, I don’t take it for granted.

Written by: Allyson Mandry