Commit to One: Two breast cancer survivors encourage others to self-check monthly


Although breast cancer screenings generally don’t start until a person is in their 40s, it can develop at any age. Lauren Dages and Markeeta Morrow were both in their early 30s when they were diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer, and they both caught it through self-exams.

Dages is a hairdresser who lives in Fishers; and Morrow, of Indianapolis, is a student driver representative for Schneider Trucking. They were introduced to each other as they endured cancer treatment because they had similar journeys to navigate, and they’ve continued their friendship since their diagnoses in 2021.

Both want to spread the message that committing to one self-exam a month can save lives.

“I always grew up being aware of my body and making sure I did those screenings,” Morrow said. “And it came in handy when I discovered a lump in my breast at the age of 31. It ended up being something that gave me a head start (on treatment).”

She said that by the time she was able to see a doctor, the tumor was 2.6 centimeters. Morrow explained that triple-negative cancer is aggressive and grows fast.

Dages added that triple-negative means it’s a cancer that doesn’t “feed” off of any known source. Some tumors grow in the presence of hormones, she said, so suppressants can help. But that’s not the case with triple-negative cancer.

“What makes triple-negative so scary is doctors don’t know what the tumor feeds off of,” she said.

Dages’ experience was complicated. Her tumor was in a milk duct, and she was breastfeeding at the time. Whenever her milk filled up, it felt like the tumor had gone away. Dages also was hesitant to see a doctor right away because a few years prior, she had gone to a clinic because of unusual discharge from her breast. She had a mammogram at the time, and nothing was found.

“They said it was probably just my birth control,” she said. “That confused me and gave me a false sense of confidence. I probably had cancer for three years before diagnosis.”

Dages said many people don’t think about the need for screenings at a young age.

“I think we grew up with the understanding that it’s something that you don’t really have to worry about until you’re older, unless you have genetic mutations that you know of or family history,” she said. “I personally didn’t have anything (like that).”

Once the tumor “broke out” of the milk duct, though, it grew quickly and became an obvious lump that Lauren felt during a regular self-exam. One of the clients at her hairdressing business is a nurse practitioner, and the nurse told her to go in as soon as possible to get it checked. Dages’ official diagnosis was May 22, 2021. Morrow’s was August of that year, and the two connected when a hospital representative introduced them.

The two young women had a lot in common. They had both recently given birth — on the same day. They’re the same age, they were both navigating aggressive cancer treatment while dealing with toddlers at home, and they both have stories about not-so-sensitive friends and relatives.

“We have a bond,” Morrow said. “When I meet up with Lauren, it feels good. It’s a comfort to have someone to go through it with you.”

Dages said she didn’t know of anyone else in Indiana going through treatment at such a young age.

“I know some people online nationally that are young moms,” she said. “But I was very excited to be able to meet another fellow survivor in this area, and she’s awesome and we have lots of fun when we get together.”

It’s certainly not a fun situation to be in, they clarified, but they’ve been able to find ways to laugh through the pain.

Both women had chemotherapy and double mastectomies. Dages had to follow up with radiation treatment and an additional round of chemotherapy. Both  had to take steroids, which led to weight gain. Both have struggled with body image on top of the physical and emotional toll of cancer treatment.

“I feel like I have a better perspective as a survivor and being a survivor at such a young age of how precious time is,” Dages said. “I was always rushing to the next thing or thinking I had so much time to do the things that I wanted, (and now) I definitely cherish this new perspective I have of really trying to make the most of my time.”

Dages and Morrow have some advice for the friends and family of people with cancer: Don’t say, “Call if you need anything,” for example. Instead, be the one who calls and offers. Also — and this is a big one — don’t joke about survivors getting free breast enhancement surgery. First, because it’s not free, and second because the pain, illness and fear leading up to reconstruction is not a joke.

They also have advice for women everywhere, of every age: Perform a self-exam monthly, and go to a medical provider if you find anything out of the ordinary. It could save your life.

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Lauren Dages had recently given birth to her first child, and was still breast feeding, when she found a lump during a self-check. (Photo courtesy of Community Health Network)

How you can ‘Commit to One’

Women of every age, and especially those who are not eligible for insurance-provided breast cancer screenings, can perform a self-exam monthly to check for signs of cancer.

Community Health Network has a web page where women can commit to one self-check a month. It walks you through the process:

  • Pick a time several days after a regular menstrual cycle, when breasts are less likely to be swollen or tender. Women who no longer have periods can pick a day of the month and mark it on the calendar to make it easy to remember.
  • In front of a mirror, stand with your hands on your hips and look for any differences in your breasts. You’re looking for any changes in the color of your skin, or your breast’s size and shape.
  • While you’re still in front of the mirror, raise your arms above your head and place your hands together. Look for the same changes. Check to see if your nipples have become inverted, or if there is discharge.
  • Lie down on a bed or a comfortable flat surface. Keep two or three fingers together, and using the underside of your fingers firmly touch your breast in a small, circular motion. Repeat this motion for your entire breast, using more pressure at the back of your breast where the tissue is deeper. You’re trying to feel for any lumps or abnormal density.
  • During your next shower, repeat the same motions as described above. Wet skin will make it easier as you continue to search for lumps or abnormalities.

If you find something, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cancer, according to the website. A lot of breast lumps are benign. But they still should be checked.

To take the pledge, go to