Mary Leer was diagnosed at age 67 (2019) with ductal invasive breast cancer in both breasts (Stages 1A and 2A). Her journey started with two false negative diagnoses that her own self-exam and a second opinion with MRI imaging corrected. Beginning her cancer journey in this way forged in her a commitment to help others navigate the physical and psychological challenges of a cancer diagnosis, with a drive to seek out second opinions and assemble one’s care team. When a second cancer (melanoma) was diagnosed, just as COVID-19 hit New York City in March 2020, she found the PEN website. The graphic of PEN’s Pathway to Empowerment served – and continues to serve – as a map that reminds and guides her to this day as she completes treatment. She says the framework is now her go-to when participating in support groups or talking to others from those recently-diagnosed to post-treatment cancer survivors.
With an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Mary has over 35 years’ experience as a teacher, academic coach, graduate school advisor (Bank Street Graduate School of Education, NYC), and consultant in K-12 mathematics education. Her passion for designing interdisciplinary units and instilling a growth mindset in all her students – from elementary through graduate school – she feels, is in synch with PEN’s mission of empowerment. Most striking to her is the urgent and critical need to ensure repairing the inequitable access to healthcare, insurance, and avenues for healing and thriving. This includes laying bare the statistics of cancer rates and mortality that too often reflect racial disparities that are historically systemic in education and government.