I am sharing my story today to encourage everyone, especially those of you with high-density breasts or if you are married to someone with high-density breasts to be very vigilant about self-examination. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on 8/31/10. It came as quite a shock to me, as I am sure it does for most patients. I was too busy to deal with cancer, and I was too healthy to have cancer! I had yearly screening mammograms, diagnostic mammograms, and ultrasounds so they would have caught it way before my lump got this big. However, they could not detect this lump with a mammogram or ultrasound since my breasts are so dense.
I was finishing the remodeling of the home we were moving into in just two weeks. I just hired two new people for my Team, and we were knee-deep in training. We were going to my father’s retirement party in Las Vegas in a month…. I did not have time for what was next two mammograms & ultrasounds, a breast MRI, two biopsies, consults with three different surgeons, a CAT/PET scan, an oncologist consult, a radiologist consult, AND MOVING… all of which was completed in three very blurry weeks.
The lumpectomy was 10/8/10, and the outcome was unpredictable. They could get it all or they could discover that I needed a mastectomy. Thankfully the surgeon was able to remove the cancerous lump with clear margins and remove some lymph nodes and the lab reports were all good. The tests showed that I did not need chemotherapy, but radiation was required for nearly two months. The last radiation treatment was on 12/30/10. For the month of January, I was pretty exhausted and mindless. The oncologist prescribed Tamoxifen to increase my survival rate by an additional 8%, but that almost made me crazy and would not let me sleep, so I stopped taking it. A rash (from my neck down to my waist) set in that I couldn’t find relief from, even after going to three dermatologists, the oncologist, and the radiation oncologist for diagnosis. Of course, they had seen only one other case like mine. My sister recommended acupuncture and after about 3 months of treatment, the rash disappeared. It was April 2011.
Since then, I found another lump, and again the panic set in. Thankfully there is a new test called Molecular Breast Imaging that is used with patients with high-density breast tissue. It can find a tumor as tiny as 3 millimeters. In one patient with dense breasts a 5 cm tumor the size of a golf ball was missed by a mammogram but found by the gamma camera used for Molecular Breast Imaging. More than 50% of all women have dense breasts. If you fall into this category, your risk of breast cancer increases and mammograms will miss the early signs of breast cancer 75-80% of the time. I had this test completed and I am clear. The lump I felt was not cancerous.
What being diagnosed with breast cancer has taught me…. I learned that I can handle more than I thought. I learned that the whole world could come crashing down with just one phone call. I learned that although mammograms and ultrasounds can be great diagnostic tools if you have dense breasts like I do, your fingers are the best tools for detecting lumps. I learned that work is important but time with your family and friends is more important. Your memories will be about your experiences and nothing else. Live your life and be present!
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