Breast Cancer: Early Detection Is the Key
I always had dense, “lumpy” breasts. I had my first biopsies when I was sixteen years old—and this was back in the day when you really didn’t say breast. I remember telling my classmates that I was having heart surgery, which at the time seemed to be a lot easier to say than breast biopsies…
I had a four inch scar on one breast and a two inch scar on the other breast (they were certainly thorough). Both masses were benign.
Over the years I was always a little afraid—was this thickness or this lump abnormal? One year I went for my exam and there was a lump or thickening. My gynecologist said, “we’ll keep an eye on it.” The next year he couldn’t remember I had the lump the year before. I switched doctors.
In 1994, I went to the gynecologist with a lump. The mammogram showed the one lump, but a sonogram showed three. I was referred to a general surgeon who decided to biopsy one mass.
As far as I knew, everything was fine—no one contacted me to tell me otherwise.
I went to the surgeon to have my stitches removed, and he asked me if my husband was with me. Of course he wasn’t with methis was supposed to be a routine visit. He proceeded to tell me I had breast cancer. He then left to take a phone call.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of what he said when he came back— something about having my lymph nodes removed and radiation. I was in shock.
I remember stopping at the reception desk to check out and the person at the desk seemingly blaring out in a waiting room filled with people, “Here’s some information on breast cancer… and you need to schedule your lymph node removal and radiation.” So much for confidentiality.
I walked out stating that I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I was positive that whatever it was wasn’t being done there.
I drove home sobbing and scared and called my husband. He came home and did his best to console me. He said not to worry about anything and we would do whatever we have to do—we can close Synergy so you don’t have to worry about it. This made me think that he thought I was going to die and I cried even harder.
I pulled myself together and taught my 6:30 p.m. Power Step class that night. It made me feel normal, like I was going to live.
To make a long story short, I called a dear friend who was a doctor. I got an appointment the very next week with a top oncologist and breast cancer surgeon.
In the opinion of the oncologist, my prior doctor had misread the slide—yes it was cancer, but very early stage cancer. The thought was that the lumpectomy (biopsy) should be sufficient—no chemo, no radiation, no lymph node removal and that I would be monitored every year.
Of course, there was still the matter of the two other lumps that were not biopsied. I had to undergo the trauma again (truly scared this time) of two biopsies. The lumps were benign.
I still had some decisions to make. Although it was not recommended, I considered the option of having a double mastectomy. I felt like I was a living time bomb, and if I had a double mastectomy then I wouldn’t have to worry anymore.
In the end, reason prevailed and I opted to live my life with very close monitoring. It’s been 17 years and—knock on wood—so far all is well.
Now the question becomes, suppose the tumor that was biopsied was benign, and the cancer was in one of the other tumors? Would I have asked to have the other lumps biopsied or would I be satisfied that all was done that needed to be done?
I honestly just thought of this question as I was writing this article. I was “lucky” that my cancer was found at such an early stage and “lucky” that the lump chosen to be biopsied was the one with early stage cancer.
Don’t rely on luck to guide you through your health and wellness journey. Early detection is the key.
Be ever vigilant – it’s your life. The wait and see approach could be an invitation to disaster. Too young to have breast cancer? Statistics mean nothing if you happen to be the one who develops breast cancer at an early age.
When in doubt—check it out. Get the additional sonogram and go for the biopsy—it’s the only way to know for sure.
What can you do to reduce your risk of breast cancer?
According to the Mayo Clinic, breast cancer prevention begins with various factors you can control:
~ Limit alcohol. The more alcohol you drink, the greater the risk of developing breast cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself to no more than one drink a day.
~ Control your weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This is especially true if obesity occurs later in life, particularly after menopause.
~ Get lots of exercise. Being physically active can help you maintain a healthy weight, which, in turn, helps prevent breast cancer. (This could be what saved me and is saving me!)
~ Breast feed. Breast feeding may also play a role in breast cancer prevention. The longer you breast feed, the greater the protective effect.
~ Discontinue hormone therapy. Long term combination hormone therapy increases the risk of breast cancer. If you’re taking hormone therapy for menopausal symptoms, ask your doctor about other options. You may be able to manage your symptoms with non-hormonal therapies, such as physical activity. If you decide that the benefits of short-term hormone therapy outweigh the risks, consider using the lowest dose that is effective for your symptoms, and plan to use it only temporarily.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but I urge you to be vigilant and aware every day of the year.
Finally, please join us for our Pink Power Fundraiser on October 15, 2011, all proceeds to The Red Devils. The Red Devils fund support services for breast cancer patients and their families throughout Maryland. Check out www.the-red-devils.org Hope to see you there!
Additional posts by Charmaine Gordon
- 12 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain, 07 Dec 2012 in Health & Wellness
- Breast Cancer: The Importance of Early Detection and What You Can Do to Reduce Your Risk, 23 Oct 2012 in Health & Wellness
- The Ultimate Anti-Aging Regimen, 12 Apr 2012 in Health & Wellness
- Curb Your Appetite: Strategies that Quiet the Beast Within, 31 Jan 2012 in Health & Wellness
- FAT: Six Reasons to Get It Off and Keep It Off, 08 Aug 2011 in Health & Wellness
- 12 Tips to Avoid Holiday Weight Gain, 03 Dec 2010 in Health & Wellness
- Stop Midlife Weight Gain—Metabolism 101, 08 Oct 2010 in Health & Wellness
- 15 Easy Ways To Blast Fat & Jumpstart Your Metabolism, 12 Aug 2010 in Health & Wellness
- The Ultimate Anti-Aging Regimen, 08 Apr 2010 in Health & Wellness