Becky and Jim Carmichael have been married for 51 years. During their marriage, they’ve lived in China, England and France, and once Jim retired, they spent time traveling and visiting family, including their children and grandson. During their anniversary celebration this summer, they also celebrated another milestone: Becky completing treatment for breast cancer.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Becky, like many other women, skipped her yearly mammogram. It was the first one she had missed in decades. Thirty years ago, she had a benign tumor, which was removed, but the experience scared her.
“I’ve been really good about going every year since then,” Becky said. “But with COVID, everything shut down for a while, right around the time I needed to go, so I skipped my mammogram for the first time ever, in 2020.”
A year later, when Becky’s doctor reminded her she was overdue for a mammogram, she scheduled one. She didn’t expect anything to be amiss. But the scan showed an enlarged axillary gland. Becky underwent a sonogram, then to see a breast specialist. “There was something, but they didn’t know what,” Becky said. “The doctor didn’t feel a lump. I didn’t feel a lump.” A breast MRI revealed a tumor, and a biopsy confirmed it was breast cancer.
“I thought, okay, this is something I’m going to have to deal with, it’s not going to go away,” Becky said. “For me, the strangest thing about the diagnosis was that I didn’t feel any different. I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t have pain. I felt like regular old Becky, who complained about some aches and pains. It was hard to wrap my head around, that there was this thing in my body somewhere, but I didn’t feel anything.”
Days before Christmas, Becky underwent a lumpectomy. Fifteen lymph nodes were removed, four of which had cancer. “That was how my journey began,” she said. “I didn’t think skipping one mammogram was a bad idea, but it ended up not being a good idea. I felt disappointed in myself.” Becky’s treatment also included chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“I was so used to going, going, going,” Becky said. “But treatment is physically taxing. You have to stay home because your immunity is lowered. Everything comes to a stop, and that was difficult. I missed my friends, my weekly coffee or tea or lunch with a group of friends I saw every week. You’re not hungry, you don’t feel like cooking, watching TV. You don’t feel like reading a book. Treatment is a difficult period.”
Becky is grateful for the support she’s received from friends and family, especially Jim, who has been her primary caretaker. “My daughter made me a chemo bag to take to appointments. I have a group of yoga friends, and they’d call and bring meals, and of course Jim,” she said. “He drove me to appointments, he’d sit in the bathroom with a book when I was in the shower in case I had any issues. I really relied on him.”
Becky knows not everyone has the support she has. “If someone was going through this without the support of friends and family, I’d tell them to reach out to Komen,” she said. “Komen has so many wonderful resources and can provide so much help.”
She also encourages people to make sure they’re taking care of themselves. “Please don’t skip your mammogram. Don’t think you’re going to find breast cancer by feeling it. That’s not always the case. Get your mammograms, take care of yourself,” she said, noting the possibility that if she had not missed her mammogram in 2020, the cancer may have been caught earlier. “You’re number one, so act like it.”
Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.