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Nicole Smit & Tara Greeley

Mother and Daughter Bond in a Battle Against Cancer

Holy Name Cancer Center - Tara Greeley and Nicole

Tara Greeley wasn't surprised when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her family had a long history with the disease – her mother, sister, aunt and several cousins had all battled breast cancer. As a result, she had routinely scheduled mammograms and caught the disease early. Receiving the diagnosis at age 50, she was disappointed, but she accepted it and began treatment hopeful for a successful recovery.

Tara's daughter, Nicole, wasn't as resigned to the news. She was scared…really scared, but she wanted to be strong in support of her mom.

"For most of our lives, it was just the two of us. Whatever one of us went through, we went through together" Nicole says. "I just didn't want my mom to have to go through something like this."

Nicole's worry for her mom was warranted. Chemotherapy treatment was tough, taking Tara's hair and appetite, and giving her stomach pains and rashes. But with the support of her daughter, she got through it and prepared for surgery.

Then the unthinkable happened. Nicole felt a lump on her breast while showering.

Tara's whole focus shifted to her daughter. She hurried to meet Nicole at Holy Name and be by her side for the biopsy results.

The results were distressing. At only 26 years old, Nicole, like her mother, had triple negative breast cancer. Shockingly, Nicole also had another small tumor in the same breast caused by a different type of cancer, and she would require dedicated therapy for both cancers.

Tara had chosen Holy Name's renowned Breast Center for treatment despite the more than 45 minute drive from her Valley Cottage, NY home, and Nicole knew she needed the same great care her mother was receiving.

"Two unrelated types of cancer at the same time is very rare," said Dr. Raimonda Goldman, Chief of Medical Oncology and breast specialist at Holy Name, who treated both women. "We were confident that we could develop a personalized care plan tailored to Nicole's needs and give her a great chance of recovery."

Tara was devastated, feeling a surge of anger and fear that hadn't accompanied her own diagnosis. "I knew what my daughter would have to go through and I was so mad that she had to face this at such a young age," Tara says, her voice cracking. "I just grabbed her hands and told her it was going to be okay. We were going to overcome cancer together, as mother and daughter, like we had overcome so many things before."

Tara moved forward with a double mastectomy and then reconstruction surgery, while Nicole started chemotherapy, with surgery, radiation and more targeted therapy to follow. "There were moments when I was really afraid of dying," says Nicole. "But having my mom's support and seeing her strength as she pulled through treatment really helped me keep fighting."

Today, both women are cancer free. Tara has regained her pre-treatment stamina and says she is now more grateful for the little things. Nicole is continuing targeted therapy and looking forward to getting back to teaching elementary school this fall after taking a year off for treatment.

Reflecting on their cancer journey together, they acknowledge that Tara's illness may have saved Nicole's life by encouraging her to conduct a self-exam and to seek a physician's opinion immediately if anything feels off. Advanced genetic testing from Holy Name Cancer Care confirmed both women have the mutated BRCA1 gene that puts them at higher risk for breast and ovarian cancers, leading Dr. Goldman to recommend a medication that benefits those with this specific hereditary condition.

Tara and Nicole now credit their unique bond as mother and daughter and the expert care they received at Holy Name as major factors in their recovery.

"I am so thankful we had exactly what we needed in our fight against cancer." Tara says. "I know we couldn't have faced this challenge without one another, and we couldn't have done it without the experts at Holy Name."

Learn more about the Holy Name Breast Center