Patient Stories

Each day is a blessing: Erin Maher's story

May 12, 2023

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Erin Maher credits her daughter with saving her life. In 2016, 32-year-old Erin discovered a pea-size lump in her breast two months before realizing she was pregnant with her second child.

“Several doctors told me it couldn’t be cancer; I was too young,” says Erin. "When I learned I was pregnant, I switched to an OB/GYN at Legacy." Erin said the doctor referred her to the Legacy Cancer Institute for a consult, where she was immediately diagnosed with stage three triple-negative breast cancer. “I was desperate to be heard and was ignored by doctors for months,” says Erin. “I was quite distraught about the excuses I was given and why they thought I was wrong.”

Dr. Nathalie Johnson, senior medical director for the Legacy Cancer Institute, said triple negative is an aggressive form of breast cancer that requires chemotherapy. “We take a holistic approach to treatment which includes the obstetrician and the oncologist.”

Erin had port surgery to receive the chemotherapy, and at 15 weeks pregnant, she started treatment to fight this aggressive cancer.

Four months later, she had a lumpectomy. Though the placenta protects the baby from chemotherapy, Erin chose a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy because she didn’t want to be under anesthesia that long.

She endured chemotherapy treatment from August to December. At the time, her husband worked at Legacy and came to see her during her appointments at Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center. She often had two to three weekly appointments between the cancer treatment and pregnancy.

woman wearing pink holding child dressed in pink, kissing child's forehead

“I’m grateful for the support of my family and friends who helped me during this difficult time with my 2-year-old son and my husband,” says Erin.

The tumor did shrink, but not for long. As the baby grew, so did her tumor. Soon, it was the size of a peach. Erin was induced five weeks before her due date and amazingly had an easy birth experience bringing a healthy 5-pound, 6-ounce girl named Illianna into the world.

Erin still had four more rounds of chemotherapy, 38 rounds of radiation, and nine months of oral chemotherapy. Afterward, she had several months of scans to ensure the cancer didn’t reappear. Because of the chemotherapy, she couldn’t breastfeed but did feed her daughter with donated breast milk.

Illianna is an energetic, fiery redhead kindergartener today, and Erin passed her five-year mark with no cancer detected. Erin makes every day worthwhile. She loves life, likes to laugh, and enjoys her job with an educational program that helps parents with resources.

“I live my life to the fullest. I focus on family time, and we even added a new family member, a 90-pound rescue dog who thinks he’s a lap dog.”

Erin has a message for survivors. "While I approached my diagnosis with humor, I must admit that the worst part about cancer is that you see each day as a curse, a fight,” she said. “Still, the best part about surviving is that now you can see each day as a blessing and be grateful for every Mother’s Day, birthday, every sunrise, and every milestone for the rest of your life."

white room, woman holding child on her lap, smiling at camera, with a pink number 5 balloon to the left of them


Vicki Guinn, MS
Legacy Health
Public Relations
Photo creditsErin Maher  Legacy Health Cancer Institute 

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