I was diagnosed with breast cancer on August 30, 2019. A date I will never forget, along with four dreaded words no woman ever wants to hear – “You have breast cancer. “
Before my cancer, on a whim at 35, I decided to get a mammogram done. I have no history of breast cancer in my family, so I figured why wait, it couldn’t hurt to be proactive. This test came back negative and went on with my life. So, at 40, when my primary physician suggested that I get a mammogram done during my annual exam, I thought nothing of it. Sure! I scheduled my mammogram right away. I went back to the same place I had gone five years prior. They had my previous scans, and the staff was always nice; this will be quick and easy, so I thought. I got a mammogram done on August 20. it was at this appointment a mass was observed.
Everything that happens next happened so fast. I was then scheduled for a biopsy on August 23 and an MRI on August 30. I was dealt a blow of Invasive ductal carcinoma diagnosis. While I sat in the examination room trying to process this news, the tech was so happy to report that they would have missed it if I had not come in when I did. It was so small, she said, a 0.6 of a centimeter. This was all so surreal. I recall texting my sister-in-law, who is a nurse, to tell her the news; her response was, “get it out now.” Four more dreaded words that I had to process. During the time leading up to surgery, several physicians become your care team. I met with a nutritionist to discuss my diet. I met with a fertility specialist. I met my oncologist for the medication I was then prescribed to take for the next five years. I had genetic testing done to determine if the cancer I was diagnosed with had a predisposition for reoccurrence. I met with my surgeon and then my radiation oncologist, and then my treatment plan was put into place. I had a lumpectomy in October and 16 sessions of radiation in December. After my last radiation treatment, I was given an opportunity to “Ring the Bell,” signally being cancer-free. I declined. I didn’t feel like what I had been living with for the four months was anything compared to what people live with year after year. My treatment plan was personalized to MY diagnosis. I am one of the lucky ones. And although I did not “Ring the Bell,” I am a breast cancer survivor with a new lease on life.
Here’s some information that you might find valuable: The American Cancer Society’s recommendation is for women ages 40-44 to choose, if they so desire, to get the first mammogram. Women ages 45-54 should get a mammogram annually. I believe this recommendation is going to change as the detection of breast cancer in women is occurring at a younger age at an increasingly rapid rate. More women are dying from breast cancer before the age of 40. I don’t want to even think about what would have happened if I had waited until 45 to get a mammogram. My cancer likely would have spread, and because the type of cancer I had was very aggressive, my prognosis likely wouldn’t have been so positive.
If you have a family member with a history of any of the following cancers, get a mammogram:
Once diagnosed with breast cancer, you have a higher risk for any of the below cancers:
- A second breast cancer, different than the first
- Salivary gland cancer.
- Esophagus cancer.
- Stomach cancer.
- Colon cancer.
- Uterine cancer.
- Ovarian cancer.
- Thyroid cancer.
Finally, here’s what they don’t tell you about cancer. Aside from the typical treatment plan of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation, it’s lonely, very lonely. While everyone around you is extremely supportive, no one around is going through what you’re going through when you’re going through it. The thoughts you have daily are deafening. Will I survive? Will this get worse? How will my kids manage without me? So, I didn’t tell my kids what I was going through. A mistake I will forever regret. All of this is happening internally, while externally, you’re expected to remain positive and keep smiling. I did that for my family, but not without its challenges. My advice is to tell your family, tell your friends, tell any and everyone who will listen to your voice what you’re going through. They want to support you. Don’t take this away from them.
I share my story for other women’s benefit and to continue to stress the importance of early mammogram examinations. Because, at the end of the day, one thing that is certain with this disease is that cancer doesn’t pick and choose who it will attack. So be on the offensive side and get early testing.
 The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. (2021, August 27). Cancer screening guidelines: Detecting cancer early. American Cancer Society. Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.cancer.org/healthy/find-cancer-early/american-cancer-society-guidelines-for-the-early-detection-of-cancer.html.
 Nixon, C., & Cottrell, P. (2021, April 21). Genetics: Breast cancer risk factors. Breastcancer.org., from https://www.breastcancer.org/risk/factors/genetics.
 Second cancers after breast cancer. American Cancer Society. (2020, June 9). Retrieved October 27, 2021, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/living-as-a-breast-cancer-survivor/second-cancers-after-breast-cancer.html.