NAMPA, Idaho >> When Mary Mendiola and Myra May took a work trip together in 1992, they didn’t know each other well.
But as the longtime child welfare social workers for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare sat down to dinner together, they quickly found a commonality: both were eager to have children.
Soon after, they discovered they’d both gotten their wish. May was pregnant with her second son, while Mendiola was pregnant with her first.
Their children would be born three weeks apart.
“We raised them together through the years,” Mendiola said, “and now they’re now 24.”
Since then, they’ve spent every Easter together, celebrated the marriages of their children together and worked through cancer diagnoses for both of their mothers.
In October 2012, May received a breast cancer diagnosis of her own after her first mammogram. Mendiola was with May when doctors called with May’s biopsy results.
May faced two lumpectomies — all while Mendiola’s mother faced a mastectomy for breast cancer, too. That didn’t stop Mendiola from being there for May’s surgeries and radiation treatments.
“She’s a caretaker, so anything I needed, she saw to,” May said. “My husband was awesome, but he’s a firefighter for Nampa and was working 48 hour shifts … I had a lot on my plate, and Mary stepped in and took a lot of that.”
Less than two years later, in July 2014, Mendiola was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. She said she never worried about her own lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy — which caused her to lose her hair — because she had a friend like May by her side.
They looked at each other and said, “been there, done that.”
“I basically said to Myra, ‘I don’t care what they tell me, you’re my nursemaid,’” Mendiola said. “She knew every med I took. I still can’t tell you what medications I was on, what I took, when I took them. She did that.”
The friends recognize how lucky they are to have had family and each other through their treatments, but they don’t take that for granted. They’ve become comfortable talking about their experience with the disease, and encourage other women — and men — to be proactive with their health.
They’ve arranged for a mobile mammogram bus to come to the Department of Health and Welfare where they work in Caldwell to convince their coworkers of the importance of screenings and early detection. They’ve also participated in Race for the Cure for the last four years.
Both encourage their friends and colleagues to listen to their bodies, do self-exams and ask questions of their doctors, no matter how uncomfortable the topic may seem.
Mendiola said she doesn’t shy away from her diagnosis out of fear, and has decided to get 3-D mammograms from here on out, even if they’re not covered by insurance.
Her breast cancer diagnosis also put into perspective her risk for other cancers, she said. In March 2015, Mendiola and her husband had a “double date” and got colonoscopies together — a process that likely saved her husband’s life. He was diagnosed with colon cancer directly after that.
“I say this and I mean it: I’m glad I got breast cancer,” she said. “Without it, we would have never done that, and we would have never found his cancer.”
People must be advocates for their own health, Mendiola said, because, unfortunately, no one else is going to do it for them.
“You’ve gotta keep asking those questions,” Mendiola said. “My experience with Myra and my mom, and of course myself, and what they went through, has shown me you keep going no matter what until you get your answer.”
May agreed. Fear of the unknown can be a powerful deterrent, she said, but it should never stop you from taking control of your own health.
“Cancer isn’t something that is ever going to drag us down …” May said.
Mendiola was quick to finish her friend’s sentence, laughing and putting her hand over May’s shoulder.
“It’s just another thing we’ve done, and we’ve done together,” she said.