Connie Malueg is a dairy farmer from Caroline who has a way of finding humor in one of life’s darkest moments.
“I need a shirt that says ‘udderlessly beautiful’,” Malueg laughed, recalling a conversation she had with a friend.
Malueg laughs easily these days, smiles often and looks at life as a gift.
“The birth of the kittens and the birth of the calves and all of those things are so much fun,” she said of life on a farm. “Lots of good days.”
That doesn’t mean her path has been easy, however. Although she lives on a dairy farm, Malueg has spent decades building her career as a school teacher.
“I’m starting my 27th year,” she said. “All of it has been at Marion.”
In fact, that’s where she was on the day, two years ago, when she got a devastating phone call.
“I got the call that it was cancer,” Malueg recalled. “I was at school that day.”
The news came as a shock. Malueg has no family history of breast cancer. However, Aurora BayCare Medical Center’s Dr. Natalie Luehmann says Malueg’s diagnosis is not uncommon.
“Connie’s case is actually similar to how many of our patients present, in that they don’t have a family history of breast cancer,” Luehmann said.
A breast surgical oncologist, Luehmann says family history only plays a role in a small percentage of breast cancers.
“Actually, only 10 to 15 percent of breast cancers that we diagnose are due to, or related to, having a family history,” she said. “So, that means the majority of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history.”
Luehmann says the message to get out is about awareness and the importance of early detection.
“I think the importance of Connie’s story, and it’s also highlighted in the importance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is early detection,” Luehmann said.
That’s what saved Malueg. Thanks to her vigilance with yearly mammograms, her cancer was detected early, sparing her from having to undergo radiation and chemotherapy.
“I get emotional thinking of people who’ve gone through that,” Malueg shared. “I didn’t have to go through it and that was a blessing.“
“Her surgery was successful,” added Luehmann. “There was a larger area involved, but fortunately the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes. I’m very happy for her. Her prognosis is great.”
The larger involvement Luehmann referred to, as well as a concerning spot in her other breast, are part of what led to Malueg’s decision to have a double mastectomy. She admits it was a difficult choice, but in the end, she says what matters is that she survived.
“I’m still here you know,” Malueg said. “I may look different but I’m not different in any other way.”
“Udderlessly” beautiful indeed.
Just last month, Malueg had the joy of seeing her oldest daughter get married.
If you’d like to know your risk for breast cancer, whether you have a family history or not, visit: aurorabaycare.com/assessments to take an online breast health assessment.