Breast cancer first entered my life when one of my best friends from high school was diagnosed with it and died at the age of 28. Shortly thereafter my ob/gyn, who delivered all three of my children, died from breast cancer at the age of 39. Because of these personal experiences I have always been diligent about having my annual physicals and doing my breast self-exams regularly. Even though I didn’t have any family history of breast cancer, I knew first-hand that it wasn’t an age-discriminatory disease.
In February 2013, two months after my 40th birthday, I went in for my routine annual physical. Everything checked out fine, no unusual lumps or bumps, but because I was now 40, I was presented with the option of having my first mammogram. It was presented as an “option” because it is now recommended that women start mammograms at age 50.
The decision was solely up to me. Understanding the “risks” of having it done, which included the possibility of getting called back for a second mammogram or having an unnecessary biopsy done if something was found, I choose to proceed.
Having been warned by the doctor that it’s common to be called back in after your first mammogram, I wasn’t worried in the slightest when I got the call asking me to come back. It wasn’t until after the second mammogram, when they told me that they did indeed find a small mass, that I started to worry. I immediately went in for a breast ultrasound where they actually found two additional small masses in the same breast for a total of three. Now I was extremely nervous of what these masses could possibly be, trying to keep in mind that it could turn out to be nothing at all.
I was scheduled to have a biopsy of the masses at which time the doctor doing the procedure reassured me over and over again that they were most likely nothing to worry about because there was a less than a five percent chance that they were actually cancerous.
Feeling a little silly for what was apparently an overreaction on my part, according to this doctor, I went home and awaited the results. Five days later I returned for the results of the biopsies. Still focusing on what the last doctor had told me, I wasn’t too worried as I sat in the small room waiting for yet another doctor to come in and tell me that it was nothing and that I could go home and resume normal life.
I was caught completely off guard when instead he said that all three of the masses came back positive and that they were indeed cancer. I tried to focus and digest what the doctor was telling me but in a complete state of shock. How could this be happening to ME?! I’m too young! I don’t have family history! I don’t do drugs, I don’t smoke! I take overall good care of myself. I just couldn’t grasp it.
After deciding to pursue treatment locally, over the next couple of weeks I met with the surgeons to determine how I wanted to proceed. A lumpectomy? A single mastectomy because it was only in one breast? A double mastectomy just to be safe? Did I want reconstruction and if so what kind of reconstruction was right for me? To help reduce my risk of re-occurrence, because I NEVER wanted to go through this again, I opted for the double mastectomy with reconstruction.
A month after being told I had breast cancer I was on the operating table undergoing a double mastectomy. Three months later I was able to have the reconstruction completed.
In between the two surgeries I underwent all kinds of tests. Tests on the cancer itself and even genetic testing due to the fact that I was “only” 40 to see if they could determine why I had developed breast cancer at such a young age. Although they weren’t able to determine the why I had developed the cancer, the official diagnosis was multi-focal Invasive Ductile Carcinoma Stage 1A.
I am incredibly thankful that because we caught the cancer at such an early stage it was determined that I didn’t need to follow up with chemotherapy or radiation. I have to take a pill for the next 5 to 10 years but that’s it besides continuing to be checked. Although it has felt like a long road, in reality this all happened within five months. I can honestly say that I could not have done it without the overwhelming amount of love and support that I received from all of my friends, family, acquaintances, as well as the local community and resources which were absolutely amazing.
I chose to divulge such a personal story to the public because cancer can happen to anyone at any age, regardless of family history. It can even happen to you! I was astounded to learn from one of the surgeons that approximately 70 percent of the women he sees who have been diagnosed with breast cancer recently actually do not have any family history. I cannot stress enough how important early detection is. Don’t let your fears or a doctor sway you into waiting until you’re older. Take charge of your own destiny! That one simple decision to have my mammogram done now rather than waiting affected my treatment options as well as my overall outcome.
I was also pleased to learn that because of my experience there is at least one less general physician recommending that women wait until they’re older to get a mammogram. My hope in telling my story is to help save a young life because I know from my experiences with breast cancer that it can occur at any age, and it can be deadly if not caught in time.
The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.
This story is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.