Oct. 1 marked the beginning of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It also was the day I was diagnosed with cancer.
There is absolutely no history of breast cancer in my family, so even though I turned 42 today I had been putting off having a mammogram. I thought, “What’s the rush?” Besides, I had heard numerous horror stories about how awful they are. Who wants to put themselves through that when — at least in my mind — there is no need for it? Even when I saw my gynecologist at the end of July for my yearly exam and he asked me if I wanted to schedule a mammogram I said no. I also didn’t bother with monthly selfexams.
A couple of weeks following my visit to the gynecologist, I began having problems. Intermittent sharp, burning pains would shoot through my breast. I checked my bra and — a-ha! The underwire had broken and was poking through the fabric.
“That’s my problem!” I thought. I threw the bra away, fully expecting the pain and discomfort to stop.
It didn’t. Instead it got more frequent and intense. Still, I tried to put it out of my mind. After three weeks, however, things had gotten to the point where I couldn’t ignore them any longer. The pain was almost constant, and my breast felt hard. Finally I called my gynecologist and had it checked.
He was amazed. A lump that hadn’t been there just a few short weeks prior was now the size of a goose egg. He immediately scheduled an ultrasound and an appointment with a surgeon. After examining me a few days later, the surgeon sent me that afternoon for an extensive mammogram and needle biopsy.
I was going to have a mammogram — whether I wanted one or not. Lovely.
The surgeon’s office called on Oct. 1 asking me to come in that morning and discuss the test results. I still held out hope that everything was OK. After all, the doctor who performed the biopsy had said he didn’t think it was cancer because “the development of it was too weird.”
He was wrong.
My diagnosis is micropapillary cancer, an uncommon and fast-growing type. It is now the size of a baseball. As I write this, I just completed a PET (positron emission tomography) scan that will show if it has spread anywhere else. Then I see an oncologist on Friday. After that, the surgeon said they want to do chemo for several weeks and then — depending on how the tumor responds — either a lumpectomy or mastectomy. After surgery I may require radiation, as well.
You may be wondering how I’m taking all this. I refuse to wallow in self-pity or find myself a corner and get super emotional. I figure it won’t change a thing and will only make my eyes swell and give me a headache. This disease is not going to get me down. I won’t let it.
It’s amazing how much life can change so quickly. If there are any ladies reading this who are 40 or over and have not yet had a mammogram, please call your doctor and schedule one today. Don’t do like I did and put it off, especially if there’s no history of breast cancer in your family. I’m proof that history doesn’t mean squat and a malignancy can come up fast. Monthly selfexams are important, too.
If you find a lump, don’t wait to have it checked. Being vigilant is key to survival.
My journey is just beginning, and there are a lot of unknowns ahead. It’s going to be a long, tough road with good days and bad, but I’ll be OK. Lots of people are praying for me, and I have plenty of love and support from family, friends and co-workers.
Cancer may take my hair and my breasts — but it won’t take my life.