Lori Williams



I worked as an OB/Gyn nurse back when the recommended baseline mammogram age was 35 yrs. old, (and also when 35 was considered ‘Advanced Maternal Age’ – Ha!) I received my first mammogram at 35, which was uneventful and without much thought, checking that off my list of good preventive screening. My next recommended routine screen was at age 40. When I was called back for a ‘workup’ or diagnostic mammogram, I thought nothing of it as I had seen and counseled countless nervous women through this routine as a nurse, knowing that fibrous dense breast tissue can make results a little more difficult to read and requiring a closer look. At that appointment the radiologist brought me into the wall lit room to look at the films with him, and showed me on the xray the spot of concern. I knew what ‘irregular borders’ on a breast lump might mean, but was still optimistic that it would be a benign finding, even though his facial expression and tone told me he otherwise. My tumor was 1.2 cm in size, so think about how tiny this is. I went home and TRIED to feel it with my fingertips and couldn’t, although I knew precisely where it was. It likely would have taken a couple of years to develop into a lump large enough for me to have felt during a self breast exam. Biopsy was the next step and by this point, the situation definitely had my attention. I allowed the first set of nerves to kick in, and within 24 hrs. the doctor called me on the phone to confirm the suspicion and the word ‘malignant’ entered the conversation. I was numb. My brother had recently been diagnosed with colon cancer a few months before, and now I was going to have to tell my family I had breast cancer? Because it was an aggressive form of Triple positive DCIS and over the 1 cm threshold for chemo recommendations, my 40th year was a blur of surgery, several types of chemo, and radiation therapy. I lost my hair and all of my nails, became an old lady from steroids that allowed my otherwise healthy body to tolerate the poison of treatment, and from the tax on my heart from the drugs given to treat my cancer. I accepted help from family and friends to endure the fight with the stress of holding down a fulltime job and single parenthood. I would not trade any of it for the alternative of denial, or allowing that tiny lump to grow to the point of metastasis before I would have been able to feel it and be diagnosed at a later stage. I sweated the 5 year survivor mark, which is the most prevalent time period for breast cancer recurrence, and passed with flying colors, moving onto ‘survivor’ status. To this day I remain diligent with my follow ups at MD Anderson, a system for whom I have the utmost respect. I survive today because my disease was caught at an early stage through preventive screening, I had access to treatment at a state of the art facility, and because I have an amazing family and friends that stood by me, prayed for me, and helped me to simply ‘exist’ on some days. I remain supportive of those who are currently in their battle against this beast, and have stood by the beds of less fortunate sisters who who have succumbed. What I would like for you to know, is that regardless of your insurance coverage (there are low cost and free screens available), your excuses for not getting it done, putting if off because life gets busy, etc., screening is an essential part of early intervention and cancer treatment and the opportunity to do so should not be wasted. Survival rates are improving as early detection and treatment continue to advance. There really IS NO good excuse not to have this done. Your family needs you. It could save your life. As a 10 year survivor, I can tell you that the best part of my life has been post cancer, so do yourself a favor, take care of you, and encourage your female friends to do the same. It’s TOTALLY WORTH IT!