Breast cancer helped her slow down


Emma Carew

At the age of 29, Jackie Malling, director of the Minnesota Lions Eye Bank, was a self-described workaholic.

But after facing a lumpectomy – a surgery to remove only the cancerous tumors and leave the breast largely intact – chemotherapy and radiation, loss of hair and the emotional rollercoaster that come with a breast cancer diagnosis, she said she’s learned to slow down a little.

Malling, now 37, said she felt a lump in her breast when she was putting on lotion.

“I wasn’t great about doing routine breast exams,” she said. “But I knew enough to know it hadn’t been there.”

Her nursing background helped her to be “methodical and detailed” when dealing with her diagnosis, she said.

Malling said she was amazed at the technology throughout her treatment.

After consulting with multiple surgeons, she decided on a lumpectomy surgery, which was successful.

The chemotherapy came next and “was tough at times,” she said, “but not as bad as my imagination conjured up.”

“It was fabulous to have a very supportive work environment and very supportive family and friends,” she said. “I really feel for people who don’t have that.”

Malling said while she struggled with feelings of helplessness and lack of control, she thinks those feelings were much worse for her family and friends – especially her husband.

When her hair fell out from the chemotherapy, Malling said it was hardest on her husband.

“I think he cried when he shaved my head,” she said.

The baldness acted as a “pretty outward sign that something’s going on,” she said.

Because baldness is uncommon in women so young, it often forced her to give explanations and deal with her cancer publicly.

Otherwise, “the worst part was not having eyebrows,” she said. “You just look like you don’t have a face.”

The doctors told Malling that with breast cancer you really can’t say you’re cured.

Nearly nine years after her diagnosis, Malling has implemented strict changes into her diet and exercises three to six times each week.

“I didn’t change right away,” she said. “I thought I would, I thought, ‘This rocked my world without a doubt, and I’m definitely going to change.’ “

Malling said she has learned to balance work and life much better.

“I would have been putting in 60-hour weeks before and not even thinking about it,” she said.

Although she said she tries not to preach to other people who are heading down a similar path, she tries to ask them about their choices.

“I try to ask people who are working their lives away, ‘Is this really what you want? Is working this crazy schedule and these unbelievable hours really where your heart is?’ “

Malling said she is able to leave the office at 5 o’clock, when she’s done with work and take time for “the things that really matter.”

“It’s definitely changed for the better,” she said. “I’m not successful every week, but I’m pretty good.”