In my own mind, I became a breast cancer survivor the moment I received my diagnosis. It all began so innocently! I scheduled myself with my gynecologist for my routine annual exam and was pronounced in fine health. He recommended, as he always does, that I have a mammogram so I scheduled myself for one the next week.
To my shock, a week after the mammogram I received a letter in the mail telling me that an abnormality had been detected in my x-ray and that I needed to contact my doctor at once. I did so, and he seemed surprised that anything had been detected. He said that he had not been able to feel anything during my exam. He recommended a surgeon for me to see, and within a week I was in his office. He studied my x-ray and did a very thorough breast exam. He knew where he was looking and what he was looking for, but he was unable to detect by touch any hint of an abnormality. But there it was, plain as day on my mammogram.
He scheduled me for a breast biopsy and 2 days later I had my diagnosis. I had cancer, and it was in very early stage, he said stage 0. Due to the nature of my cancer, a lumpectomy was not an option for me. The calcifications covered a large portion of my right breast tissue, and in order to remove all the cancer cells, a mastectomy would have to be done. I could not believe my ears. I was only 43! I had a mammogram only a year and a half before and there was nothing there at all, and now I was having a mastectomy!
I chose to have an immediate breast reconstruction procedure, so I had to see another surgeon — a plastic surgeon. So it was done. On August 13, 2002, I had my right breast removed and had a TRAM flap reconstruction. It was a tough few days there, and I wondered for a short time if I had made a mistake — having 2 major surgeries at once was very difficult. But after those first few days I was very glad I had both done at the same time.
My pathology report was excellent, the cancer had not spread outside the breast tissue, the lymph nodes were clear. My oncologist recommended no further treatments. No chemotherapy, no radiation therapy, no tamoxifen, nothing. All I had to do was recover from my surgery and pick up my life where I left off. What blessing! It is now 5 weeks from surgery and I am doing well. My body is still sore, my incisions are not healed completely, but are very much on the way. The TRAM left my abdomen much flatter and tighter, and my new breast is still quite swollen, but the shape is incredible. Within a few months when the swelling is gone I will have a completely normal looking breast to match my real left one!
What I want anyone who reads this story to take away is this: my cancer was totally undetectable by a manual breast exam. My surgeon said I was probably a year away from having a palpable mass, but when it became palpable, it would have been enormous. My mammogram saved me from possible death, and from certain suffering through chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Because of my early diagnosis, I was spared so much. Please, if there is a woman in your life whom you love, get her to have a mammogram every year. Make it a test of love if you must. You know, “if you loved me, you’d get one”. Mammography saves lives, maybe your mother’s life, your daughter’s life, maybe even your own life. I know it saved mine!