Vigilant with mammograms since I was 36 and no family history of breast cancer assuaged any fear that I could possibly get this disease.
That self-assurance quickly evaporated in April 2010, when a self-examination in the shower revealed a lump, about the size of a plum pit, in my right breast. I quickly realized my left side didn’t have such a lump, so indeed, something was off.
Propelled into “action-mode,” I made an appointment to see my Obgyn the very next day. Upon examination, she insisted that there was NO WAY my lump could be cancerous since I had just had a mammogram the year prior.
Unfortunately, and much to her own shock, she was wrong and the subsequent ultrasound imaging and biopsy confirmed my worst fear.
I had breast cancer…
Believe it or not, my story is not an oddity. There is a population of women with dense breast tissue for whom traditional mammography does not detect tumors. We require more sensitized imaging like an ultrasound or MRI.
Scientists are learning more every day about the heterogeneity of cancer and that within a single disease, there are often unique drivers of that disease including mutations and expression of certain proteins. All patients present differently and my case is just more mounting proof that in the era of personalized medicine, not only do the therapies used to treat the disease need to be individualized, but so do the imaging techniques. Dense or fibrous breast tissue needs to be imaged with an ultrasound or MRI.
Interestingly enough, my mammogram, days before the biopsy confirmed my breast cancer diagnosis, revealed nothing suspicious as the imaging simply did not detect the tumor (which incidentally was 1.4 cm in size and had already spread to a lymph node).
We all know cancer in its early stages can be a curable and survivable disease, but we have to FIND IT to TREAT IT.
Three years later, like many of us survivors, I am filled with gratitude as this life-changing odyssey irreversibly changed me. The reality is that I’m happy with many of these “revisions” and while I don’t think I’d necessarily elect to subtract this experience from my life, if women can be spared, I feel compelled to spread the word!
My message is simple:
Be sure to ask your doctor if you have dense breast tissue (and demand an ultrasound or MRI if you do) and continue to do self-exams regularly. But, remember, self-exams do not supplant annual imaging.
Don’t dismiss your instincts and if you “Feel something, Say Something.”
There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t remember the surgeon looking me in the eye after hearing my story and saying, “Congratulations on saving your life.”
Words to live by…and gratefully, there’s lots of living left to do.
A huge hug and thank you to my soul sisters for helping me along this journey—I can say without hesitation that I could not have done it without YOU.