A personal breast cancer account: Self-awareness, advocacy
By Pure Matters
As young women, we’re told to perform monthly breast self-exams. We’re also told to visit our GYN for annual checkups so the doctor, among other things, could perform a thorough breast exam and note any changes from the past year. Throughout my adult years, performing a monthly breast exam was a ritual for me, especially since my mother and grandmother were both breast cancer survivors. At age 34, I did in fact, discover a lump. And yes, I waited a few months to see the doctor because in the life of a busy mom with daughters ages 2 and 6, I put myself last!
I finally made it to the doctor’s three months later. Due to my family history of breast cancer, the doctor ordered a mammogram and sonogram. The report came back clear. I was so incredibly relieved! It had been a very stressful week waiting for the results. However, the turning point in my life would be four months later.
The months following my mammogram, I was still completely aware of the lump: same size, same place, same hardness. I wasn’t alarmed because the radiologist stated it was a clean report. Four months after that mammogram, I visited my GYN for a simple birth control pill re-evaluation. I remember telling the doctor that I still felt that lump, no change in shape or size, but it was still there! My doctor read the report out loud, “No mass seen, repeat mammogram in one year.” I was again relieved to hear the clean report findings. However, I begged him to do another breast exam. The doctor performed the exam and without hesitation, ordered me to see a breast surgeon immediately. His office scheduled me to see a breast surgeon that day. I did not have time to research doctors or call friends for referrals.
I walked to the surgeon’s office later that day ... films in hand and in a complete daze. The surgeon viewed the mammogram film first. She stated there were clear visible calcifications in my left breast and she saw the tumor that I had been feeling for the last 9 months. She told me two areas on my left breast should have been biopsied immediately following the mammogram. I could see the doctor’s lips moving, but I could no longer hear her words. As I lay upon the table, I felt the ceiling slowly moving towards me. My chest began to feel very heavy as I realized my life would never be the same.
Naturally, I wanted a second opinion. It came from a surgeon who was chief of surgery at a nearby hospital. He, too, stated the exact same information after examining my films. However, this time, I began to feel empowered. It was through my own self-awareness and advocating for my breast exam that I, hopefully, caught the potential cancer early.
I knew that if I, too, had to battle breast cancer then I had an amazing role model, my mother. My mother always said she was a warrior to breast cancer, not a survivor of breast cancer. She was very diligent about taking supplements and vitamins from fish oil to garlic supplements to high-potency Vitamin C. The doctors gave her approximately four years to live after her breast cancer metastasized to her bone. I believe she was able to prolong her life mainly because she was so diligent with the vitamins and supplements she took on a daily basis.
Within a week I was scheduled for a biopsy. I never needed another mammogram, sonogram or a MRI. It was now the dreaded biopsy day. As I lay on the table face down, ready to be marked by the surgeon, I looked at the monitor. The mammogram that the radiologist misread four months earlier was displayed on the surgeon’s monitor. I was angry and relieved all at the same time. I was angry that my mammogram was misread but relieved I advocated for myself to have the breast exam repeated within four months. I would now have to wait one week to get the results of the pathology report.
Self-awareness and self-advocacy is so important for all of us. We need to remember to perform breast self-exams and take action quickly if we suspect something.
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