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Women's Health - Mammograms detect what you can't feel

Local women share stories of courage and strength

Posted

I was diagnosed in February 2015 and had a lumpectomy March 1 that year, which, ironically, was the first day of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The tumor could not be felt by manual exam, it was only detected through a mammogram. This is why it's so important for women to get regular mammograms. It’s important even if you don’t feel anything.

I'd had a bad fall a couple years before the diagnosis and injured the same breast in the same area. It was determined I had a contusion and it was watched for a couple years. When the mammogram in 2015 showed an area of concern, I immediately told the technician it was "just a contusion from a fall a few years ago". Then a doctor came into the room and showed me the digital screen that had the lump in clear view and explained to me that it did not look like a contusion and I would need a biopsy. I still maintained it was a contusion, but consented to a biopsy just to prove the doctor wrong. Boy! Was I surprised with the biopsy results. I guess I was in such denial that I just couldn't wrap my brain around the idea of cancer. No one in my family ever had breast cancer, so it was never on my radar.

My medical team determined I was a good candidate for a study, so I agreed to participate. There were parameters for the study and I fit them all: negative BRCA gene, tumor was estrogen positive and under 1cm, stage 1, post-menopausal, and over 60.

My oncologist told me the study included 1 week (5 days) of radiation, twice a day, but no chemo. He told me over the years it had been determined that women with stage I breast cancer who had chemo did not live any longer or have any less of a chance of the cancer recurring. My chances of the cancer never coming back with radiation treatment and 5 years of Anastrozole (a hormone suppressing drug) was 98%. I thought those were pretty good odds, so I agreed to the study. The study also included mammograms every six months up to 24 months and then once a year after that, with follow-up visits, once a year, for the rest of my life.

I took a week off from work and had the radiation treatments every day and then started the medication. This October marks my 24th month with perfectly clear mammograms. I expect them to stay that way.

During the last two years I've done a lot of research on staying healthy, and have learned a great deal about food and supplements.

For women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, I would advise the following:

1. Don't panic.

2. Get educated.

3. Do research at mayoclinic.com

4. Be the "driver of your bus" in your quest for treatment and do what feels right for YOU.

5. Stay positive.

6. Let people know you've been diagnosed with breast cancer. Everyone knows someone who you can connect with and get excellent support from.

7. Write your questions down as you think of them and take the list with you to your doctor.

8. If you want a second or third opinion, don't be afraid to get it; treatments/studies are changing all the time.

I was very fortunate to have caught the cancer early, and to have an excellent medical team that works together at Sally Jobe, Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, and Sky Ridge Hospital. They have all been terrific.

 

As the saying goes, "If you don't have your health, you don't have anything."

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