This Is My Story
My mother raised my sister and me to be aware of our bodies, to respect our bodies, and to take care of our bodies. She watched her Mother, Father, Aunts, and Uncles fight the fight against cancer, and lose. Therefore, she was insistent that we eat healthy, be active, don’t smoke, and get regular check-ups at the doctor’s to ensure we would be at our healthiest and always know what was going on inside of us. This awareness is what saved my life.
At 39 years of age I asked my family doctor how we arrange for a mammogram for my next appointment. I would be 40 years old then, and I wanted to ensure my breasts were healthy. I wanted my pre-screening to begin. I was met with a flat “No. Mammograms are given to women 50 years and older”. I was stunned. I argued my case – that both my mom and my sister had mammograms before reaching 40 years of age; and my aunt is a breast cancer survivor. My doctor listened patiently to me, and agreed to bring me back for a Ministry of Health Assessment Test. I was grateful for another opportunity to argue my case, but shocked that I had to come back to the office for a computerized test that would generate a result determining my “risk factor”.
A few months passed by, and I returned to the office to perform the computerized test. After 45 minutes of question and answer the result generated – I was on the border of ‘slightly increased risk’. My doctor hemmed and hawed, consulted another doctor, then returned and said that she would sign a requisition for a mammogram to be performed shortly after my 40th birthday. But, she advised me that I likely would not receive another mammogram for at least 5 years, as my breasts felt and looked healthy. I was healthy. I led a healthy lifestyle, and my risk for developing breast cancer was only slightly increased. I agreed; and let me point out that – at no time – through all of this did I even think there was or could be something wrong with my breasts. I was merely being diligent and responsible. I was being proactive about my health just as my mother taught me to be.
In April of 2015 I had my mammogram. I went into the test with healthy looking, healthy feeling breasts. I left an hour and a half later in an incredible amount of pain and discomfort; and within 48 hours my right breast felt far from normal. It was hard, with defined ridges, and painful to the touch. These were symptoms that were not present prior to the mammogram. A slow panic began to trickle through me. Something wasn’t right. This was confirmed a week later. I needed to be seen a second time, and a breast ultrasound would be conducted at that time. The nurse assured me that a recall was normal, as my breast tissue was dense. She booked me in for June 2nd. I had 7 long weeks of waiting and trying to keep my panic at bay.
June 2nd, my life changed that day. That Tuesday, during the breast ultrasound, things took a downward spiral. The radiologist came in and performed a fine needle aspiration to an axillary lymph node, and a core biopsy of my right breast [tissue]. She provided me with the names of the two top breast surgeons in the city, and she signed a requisition to have me sent for a breast MRI – STAT. I left the room a mess of tears and panic, and the shockwave that rolled over me completely paralyzed me. As I have said previously, I do not remember leaving the clinic, the walk to my car, or the drive home. And, within 22 days, I underwent an MRI, a second breast ultrasound, a second fine needle aspiration, and core biopsy of the left breast [tissue]. I had a right mastectomy with sentinel node biopsy on June 24th.
My pathology results postoperatively were shocking. The area of tumour was 8.7 cms of extensive ductal carcinoma in situ, grade 3, however areas of micro invasion were detected. The foci were grade 2, ER positive, HER-2 positive, and progesterone receptor negative. My case went to the board of the hospital, and every Oncologist present reviewed and discussed what the best course of action would be for me. The decision made by the board was that no radiation and no chemotherapy would be given as treatment. Their reasoning for this was that my margins to the DCIS were negative, the 3 sentinel nodes were negative, as was the one intramammary node. Their concern was that radiation and chemotherapy would be too aggressive a treatment for a cancer that was contained within the breast – contained within the milk ducts – which was entirely removed in surgery. I was given the choice of following a hormonal treatment to combat the ER positive result; and so with much consideration I decided on that course of action. I wanted – want – to do all I can to ensure that this cancer never returns.
Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) is a silent stalker. There are no visible signs and no symptoms. A mammogram is the only way DCIS can be found. It is often a “forgotten cancer” because it’s considered Stage 0 – or Early Stage. But that was not my case. Mine was aggressive and I lost my breast to it. So I share this story with you – all of you – because it is Breast Cancer Awareness month. And I want to make it clear – very very clear – that prior to the initial mammogram I had in April 2015, I had no signs or symptoms that my breast was diseased. The cancer was found solely from having the mammogram – a mammogram I fought to have performed as a pre-screening, without realizing what the results would be. Perhaps a voice from deep, deep within me insisted I have this pre-screening performed. Somewhere in the darkest corners of my mind I must have known. And I listened. And for that, I am alive today. So please ladies, love yourself by taking care of you, by being pro-active with your health, and by listening to your bodies. Fight for what you feel is right for you, and never take “No” for an answer if that voice inside your head is urging you to act.
For those fighting the fight, never give up. For those who fought and won, you are our inspiration. I thank you for that. xo
This Is My Story. Published by Crystal Joy Hall