Readers of my Lakeside Lessons blog know about the battle I fought this year. The battle one in eight women will take on in their lifetime whether they want to or not.
The one I prayed I’d never have to fight.
This isn’t the first post I wanted to write for my shiny new website. It doesn’t appear to have anything to do with church outreach except that if you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be around to care for others, so perhaps in that context, it does belong here.
As a result, in the midst of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to take a moment to say what you have probably heard hundreds of times. But I’m going to say it again.
Get a mammogram.
Because of my history – my mom was diagnosed at 39 and passed away at 45 – I am high risk. I had my first mammo at 25. Had them every other year until 30 and then had them annually after that. In the past few years, 3D mammography became available and I’ve gone that route since it was made available.
I had 29 perfectly normal mammograms. It would have been easy to become complacent, but I faithfully went annually. This year, that faithfulness probably saved my life.
I confess, even given my history, the call hit me out of left field. Although I’d been diagnosed with Marginal Zone Lymphoma the previous year – a cancer no one in my family has ever had and a cancer that is NOT common – I had come to expect my annual “thumbs up and see you in a year” call.
With this diagnosis, a test for the BRCA gene was suggested. Not that it mattered for me any longer, gene or not, I had the stinkin’ disease. But for my daughter, my sister, my granddaughter, I underwent the simple blood test and held my breath.
It came back negative so they say it’s good news for my daughter. Maybe. I don’t know if my mother had the gene since there was no test when she was diagnosed 38 years ago. All I know is that we both got breast cancer – her at 39 and me at 57. I also know that neither of us ever smoked, and neither really drank. We did both live with smokers though. Perhaps that’s a factor, I don’t know.
I also don’t know what kind of breast cancer my mom had. Most women – about 90% have ductal, but once again I got the “uncommon” cancer – lobular. When my breast surgeon used the words “sneaky” and “cancer” in the same sentence, I cringed. Not a good pairing.
The thing that made my invasive lobular cancer sneaky is that there was nothing for me to feel in a self-exam. It tends to grow linearly and not create a lump. As a result, it can be missed in a mammography until later stages.
This is why I believe my 30th mammogram saved my life. The 3D version allowed for enhancement that might not have been seen on a standard mammogram. By catching it early, my prognosis is excellent.
I was diagnosed as Stage 1. The tumor was small, but there were already two pre-cancer tumors brewing. A biopsy of the sentinel node revealed no spread of the disease. There were clean margins. Because of my history and age, I elected for a double mastectomy rather than a constant vigil to see if it would spread to my other breast. A newer breakthrough allowed my surgeon to get a DNA reading on my tumor referred to as oncotyping. A score of 0-100 is assessed and the lower the score, the lower the chance of recurrence.
Normally a competitive, “A earning” student, I was never so happy to have a low score in my life. The “12” that came back paired with a HR+, HER2- result (a good outcome because the cancer is fed by hormones which can be restricted), meant a recommendation of no radiation and no chemotherapy – just an aromatase Inhibitor pill for five years. “AI’s” as they’re called have their own side effects, but mine are nowhere near as severe as anything I’d experience with one of the conventional therapies.
So forget the excuses.
It doesn’t matter if no one in your family has ever had it. Before my mom did, no one in my family had it either.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve had 29 normal mammograms. The 30th one found something.
It doesn’t matter if you live a “clean life.” I don’t drink or smoke.
It doesn’t even matter if you don’t have the gene. I didn’t have BRCA or a number of other genes or mutations, but I was the one in eight.
Breast cancer is no respecter of persons. Women of all ages get it. Men can even get it. It doesn’t take a lot of time for the x-ray, and I’m willing to bet you’ve dealt with a lot more painful things in your life than the 30 seconds your breast gets squished on a metal plate.
If I had skipped this year, the outcome might have been very different.
There were no “markers” in my blood work – even with the lymphoma.
I didn’t feel “sick.”
I didn’t feel anything in my self-exams.
But I had breast cancer.
It was removed and I’m gonna win this fight.
Yeah, I hate that I now understand all the “buzz words” in the myriad of breast cancer related commercials for drug companies. I hate that I had to undergo a 10 hour surgery with an 11 week recovery period. I hate that I have to go through a second menopause due to the side effects of my AI.
But I love that God showed Himself faithful through the entire journey this year. I love that I had so many friends praying for me and supporting me. I love that I have faced my greatest fear and come out on the other side.
God has given many men and women incredible insight into the workings of our amazing bodies. He’s gifted them with minds able to conduct intricate surgeries and create life-saving tests and medications. Use those God-given gifts to their fullest potential.
Go get a mammogram.