Breast Cancer Awareness: One Patient’s Compelling Story About Self-Detection

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I am a (relatively) young survivor so my experience is a bit different from the majority of folks. I was originally diagnosed at age 32 in 2016. I have no family history so I had no intention of getting a mammogram in my 30s. However, I found a lump right near the surface, just under the skin on my left breast. My gynecologist recommended that I get it checked out, just in case. I ended up having a mammogram and an ultrasound. The spot that I found turned out to be nothing. But…the doctor decided that another area on my mammogram was a problem. I had a biopsy and it turned out the spot was positive. Within 10 days of having a mammogram, I was in surgery having a lumpectomy. (I had never been in the hospital as a patient before.) This tumor was very small and had not spread anywhere so I had one additional surgery and radiation therapy in 2016 and went on a longterm medication to block estrogen from helping any other tumors grow. They caught this super early. If I hadn’t pointed out the spot to be my gynecologist in the spring of 2016, I probably would not have gotten a mammogram for another eight years. That’s eight years that it would have been growing and who knows what stage the tumor would have been by then.

Self detection was also how they found my recurrence. I had a clear mammogram in July of 2018. While doing a routine self-check just after Thanksgiving of 2018, I found a lump and called the doctor’s office. Same routine. Mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy. I was 35. They biopsied two spots and both were positive. Because I had already been diagnosed once, I had a lot more testing this time to rule out the spread of disease elsewhere (CT scans, MRIs, Bone Scans, you name it, I’ve had it). Once again, there was (miraculously) no spread of disease. The tumors were staged as 1b. I had a mastectomy in January of 2019 and started chemotherapy in February. I completed the more difficult chemotherapy medication in May, two weeks before my wedding. I am still having a different infusion every three weeks and this will continue for a year, through May 2020. I’m on another longterm medication that blocks estrogen and I’m planning on reconstruction surgery for sometime next year.

I turned 36 at the beginning of October and though I am very tired and I still have a long way to go before I’ll feel “normal” again, I am thankful everyday that I took the time to do regular self-checks. My prognosis is very good because they caught all of these spots early.

My big takeaways from all my experiences over the last three and half years are do your own self exams regularly; get mammograms when they tell you to; and don’t be afraid to be your own patient advocate!

I hope this is helpful to anyone at the practice who is in doubt about whether they should get a mammogram or not.

Lisa Baker