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Women Should Consider Getting Screened Before 40

I survived two bouts with breast cancer before I turned 40. I was diagnosed at age 36 by chance, because my gynecologist believed in doing what she called a baseline mammogram for patients in their mid-30s. She was not suggesting I begin yearly screening at that age, but thought it would be a good idea to do a mammogram for comparison purposes down the road. A mammogram was not on my radar, given that I was younger than the age public health organizations suggest regular screenings begin, I was healthy, fit and had no family history of the disease.

It’s a good thing I got that screening. I was diagnosed with extensive Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) in my left breast and decided with my doctors to take an aggressive approach to try to eradicate the disease once and for all. I had a double mastectomy in December 2012, had reconstruction and went on with my life. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed again in late 2015, this time with invasive cancer — triple positive — on the same side the DCIS had been diagnosed. I was 39. I underwent surgery, months of chemotherapy and weeks of radiation.

I’m a journalist and I worked throughout both of my bouts with cancer. I had support from close family and friends, as well as my managers, who rearranged my work and travel schedule to accommodate treatment. The anti-nausea medications were effective for me and one thing that helped get me through chemo was scheduling the sessions for Friday afternoons, which meant I could spend the entire weekend resting and recuperating. Another thing that was wonderful was that I had one friend or another join me for my first several sessions of chemo to keep me company and provide moral support. It was a godsend. No one should have to face this battle alone.

My advice to women, particularly young women, whether they have been through breast cancer or not, is to consider getting a mammogram early, as a baseline. Far too many women, many of them black women like me, are being diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age and it’s important to remember that this is not just a disease affecting older women. Screening saves lives and survivors of breast cancer should be encouraging every woman they know to get screened so that any problem can be caught early.