Breast cancer survivor shares information through lectures, support group

Lynn Flanagan
Lynn Flanagan

By Kathy Day

After Carmel Valley resident Lynn Flanagan was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996, she joined a support group. But when she figured out they didn’t want to talk about breast cancer and just wanted to socialize, she sought out other options.

“It was a foreign concept to me to go out on a week night and be away from my kids and my husband for a social gathering,” said the mother of three who recently celebrated her 37th anniversary.

The solution came at the suggestion of her oldest son, then a high school sophomore. “He told me to go set up my own group.”

And that was that. She still holds monthly meetings that focus on providing information about the disease to a “sisterhood” that includes women from ages 29 to 80.

Sure, said the energetic woman who was a member of the 1972 University of Notre Dame class that was the first to include women, they are friends and they do socialize, but the key is sharing information to help people deal with their situations. Her personal mission is to make sure the information is up to date. Each month before the meetings the voracious reader prepares folders full of articles and tidbits, sometimes even personalizing them with information about a member’s type of cancer.

She dove headlong into cancer education just five months after being diagnosed. When she went back to a special reunion of her graduating class – 325 of the 6,000 graduates were women – she put on a seminar about early detection that brought out a standing-room-only crowd of men and women of all ages.

And she’s still at it 15 years later. On Sept. 24, Linked by Lynn — her support group — and Agendia, a company that makes genomic-based breast cancer diagnostic tests and aims to help healthcare professionals find more personalized ways to treat patients, are hosting John Link, M.D., for a discussion and book signing. He is the author of “The Breast Cancer Survival Manual,” now in its fifth printing. A medical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer, he founded the Orange County-based Breastlink medical group in 1995.

Bringing Link to San Diego is no coincidence. He was one of the specialists Flanagan turned to when she was diagnosed with what she called a “very tricky” type of breast cancer – invasive intralobular carcinoma.

“It is very insidious and grows differently than other types,” Flanagan said in a recent interview.

She had a “very wonderful” team led by Scripps Clinic physicians Michael Kosty and Vincent Massullo, who practices in Northern California now, but said she sought out Link for another point of view after reading the first edition of his book. Together, the doctors —  including her surgeon Michele Carpenter, who is now director of the breast cancer program at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange — developed a treatment plan that included a lumpectomy, radiation, axcillary dissection and five years of Tamoxifen.

When Flanagan developed her group, she chose to name it Linked by Lynn in honor of the physician she calls “a special individual.”

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