I was so blessed due to early detection of my breast cancer. I come from a very large family. When my grandmother on my mother’s side passed away, she had 103 direct descendents. Of all those, only two were known to have cancer. A very young first cousin of mine had passed away with colon cancer, and a second cousin (also very young) survived throat cancer. In my immediate family, there was no cancer.
In the spring of 1995, I had a regular doctor appointment with my family doctor. A very close friend of mine and I were visiting a few days before the appointment, and she mentioned that she had just gone to the doctor for a mammogram. I told her that I had never had one and she insisted that I should mention this fact to my doctor, so I did mention it…I was 47 years old at the time. My doctor scheduled me for a baseline mammogram.
A suspicious area
About a week later, I went for the mammogram, and they started concentrating on my right breast. They took several pictures and did a magnification. When I left, I was slightly disturbed by the attention my right breast had received. My doctor called me two days later and told me that they had found a suspicious area in my right breast and he wanted me to see a surgeon that same afternoon to discuss a biopsy. I was very optimistic about the whole thing because I had no lumps in my breast.
When the surgeon saw my mammogram, he showed me the suspicious area. It was a small clump of micro-calcifications. Very small. He scheduled me for a biopsy three days later. I was still fairly optimistic but, with things moving so fast, I was getting a little nervous. The day of the biopsy, they did a frozen section and told my family that the frozen section looked good except for one corner. They were going to send tissue off for further examination and diagnosis, but at that point it looked benign.
Getting the news
The following Monday I went to work as usual and, around 1 p.m., my husband arrived at the store where I worked and told me we needed to go have a cup of coffee. When I hesitated, he insisted that we go have coffee. When I looked into his face, I knew something was very wrong. Since our son was in the U.S. Army and out on a mission, I thought something had happened to him. I said to my husband, “I am not going another step until you tell me what is wrong.” He told me that my surgeon had called him at work and told him that I had breast cancer and he wanted my husband to bring me to his office right away.
I left work and went to the surgeon’s office, and he explained everything to me and recommended that I have a modified mastectomy…I was totally horrified. I asked for a second opinion and he was able to get me in to see an oncologist that same afternoon. After the oncologist looked at the report, he also recommended that I have the modified mastectomy. He told me that, with the mastectomy, I had more than a 95 percent chance of not having to have chemotherapy, radiation or medication.
We scheduled the mastectomy for Monday morning. During my wait for the surgery, I tried going back to work but decided I was too distraught and preoccupied to do my job. I began to search for information. At that time, my real concern was how my body would look after the surgery, but I could not find anything but pamphlets, and the pictures were of little stick people with a diagonal line drawn across their chest.
My surgery was successful. My surgeon, who was not a young doctor, said that I was the earliest breast cancer detection he had ever dealt with. My family and friends were so wonderful and supportive. My husband was my hero. He was there with me every step of the way. The day I went to have the drain removed at the surgeon’s office, he stood right there and watched the whole procedure. I had my eyes tightly shut because I did not want to see my body. I heard him ask the surgeon “How long is that tube?” and the reply was “Oh, about10 feet.”
When we left and were in our car, I asked my husband what I looked like and he told me, “Baby, it’s not as bad as you think. Right now you have some big black stitches, but I think when you get those out, you will be pleasantly surprised at your appearance.”
Three weeks after my surgery, I was back at work on light duty. It has been nine years since my surgery and I am fine. My four sisters and I have our mammograms every year and, so far, I am the only member of our immediate family that has had any type of cancer. One of my greatest surprises during all of this was that 80 percent of women with breast cancer have no family history of breast cancer. I walked around for years not worrying about a mammogram because there was not breast cancer in our family. Thank God that my friend insisted I tell my doctor that I needed to have a mammogram.
I have been so blessed and so lucky. I just want everyone to know that having a mammogram can save your life and, if you’re like me and find it early, it may even save you from having to have chemo, radiation or meds. I chose to have the mastectomy because I wanted to avoid chemoand radiation if possible. There was no guarantee, but the odds were in my favor. Thank you for letting me write my story.