October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: A Personal Scare, Strategies and Prevention
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer has unfortunately touched my family, and the cause is very near and dear to my heart. Up until I sold my first company in 2006, I donated a percentage of our yearly sales to various breast cancer efforts.
For the newer WomenOnTheFence readers, I wanted to share my own personal experience, and keep the awareness going. Let this serve as your reminder to CHECK YOURSELF. Check yourself.
Here is my story from three years ago. Please note, I didn’t know the outcome at this point….
I debated whether or not to share my story. Many of you will wonder why I am sharing it. My goal is that by the end of this post, you will understand why I have chosen to share my journey– one that is still in progress. I’m scared. I’m scared shitless. And I’m praying.
Here’s my story.
Last Monday while in the shower, I felt a lump in my breast. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I felt so dizzy, especially under that hot water, that I had to get out, even with shampoo still in my hair. I felt it. I felt it again. It was big. I looked in the mirror and you could visibly see it by simply looking without touching. I shouted for my husband down the hall. He felt it, and tried to calm me down and reassure me it was the same cyst from when I experienced my breast cancer scare at 22.
“We’ll call the doctor tomorrow and you’ll have it checked,” he said. “Don’t come to any conclusions until you see Dr. X.” Well that’s obviously easier said that done. Tuesday morning, I called my breast surgeon, and the secretary told me to come in right away. I was leaving for Nashville, so it would have to wait until this week. Yesterday at 9:15am, I had my appointment.
I planned on going alone because this lump was in the same area as my benign cyst from years ago. My doctor was aware of it, so while I was concerned, I was expecting her to say it’s just a big cyst. My husband looked at me yesterday morning and said, “Honey, I really want to come with you. I want to be there.” My first reaction was no, but then I felt it again, and it really didn’t feel right. I said, ok.
We walked into the doctor’s office, and I didn’t have to wait long. My doctor pulled out her yearly drawings of my two breasts, with a dot on the right breast– the area she checks every year. She asked me when I had noticed the lump. I told her a week ago. She asked me to get undressed from the waist up, and wait for her in her examining room.
She began to examine me. Our usual yearly chit-chat about life as she feels up my boobies didn’t take place. Neither one of us said a word. She then told me she’d like to call down to the breast center and order me an ultrasound right away. I started to shake. I’m not a shaker, I swear. But I felt my hands tremble, and I started to cry.
“I’m pretty sure it’s just glandular, but it’s definitely odd, and I want it checked out immediately,” she said to me. My husband was sitting next to me holding me hand, and I saw his face – white. I looked at my doctor, “I’m 35. I have two young boys. I need to be here for them.” She knew. She got it. She took my hand.
She then left me on the table and returned about two minutes later and told my husband and I which wing in the hospital to go to. I got dressed. We gathered our belongings and walked over to the breast center.
When we walked in, there were dozens of women. About 10 in the waiting area, and about another 15 down the hallway in blue gowns waiting for mammograms. I walked up to the receptionist and told her Dr. X had just called in for me. She told me to wait in the waiting area for a moment. I asked her if I should take a number, all the women were taking numbers. “No, you don’t need a number. You are going right through.”
Let me stop by telling you that it is a feeling beyond words. I cannot describe it to you. It was truly an out of body experience.
Back to the story. My husband was not allowed to walk past the waiting room… it is for women only. I went into the changing room, and again undressed from the waist up. I put on my blue gown, and was directed right to the ultrasound room. Most of the women waiting in the corridor were staring at me. They were all in their 50’s and up. I was clearly the only young woman there, as well as the only one crying. They all gave me nods, smiles and a look that can only be described if you were there. A feeling of support, solidarity and concern.
I walked in, and this wonderful woman by the name of Jodi told me she was going to be ultrasounding my breast. Her face was so kind, it felt so safe with her. “I’m very strong, but I won’t be able to fight this if it’s breast cancer. I know at 35 years old, the treatment will be very aggressive. I can’t do it,” I said quietly.
“One step at a time, ” Jodi replied. Then she began the ultrasound. I was silent. Just more tears as she ran the jellied machine over my right breast. She told me not be alarmed, that she was going to take many pictures. I laid there still as she worked. Then I asked her, “How does it look?” She replied, “Everything seems to look okay. I am optimistic that we’re not seeing anything bad here.”
Then I let it all out. I cried. Hard. Some good news. She went to get the radiologist who then ultrasounded me again. “Yes, it does look glandular, but the lump is very large and I want to biopsy it to make absolutely certain that it’s clean.”
As Jodi held my hand, the doctor explained to me what they were going to do. A needle would freeze the area, and they were going to take 3 samples of tissue from my breast. I’d hear a loud “pop” three times, and to not be alarmed. I’d be sore afterwards. I could apply ice and take Tylenol. I’d have results, good or bad, in 5-10 days.
I sat with my eyes closed as the needle went it. Jodi held my hand. My husband was not allowed in. My mother was also waiting outside by now. They were so gentle, kind and understanding. I heard the final third “pop.” They had their 3 samples. It was over. The doctor told me he’d put a rush on it, and my Dr. X would call me either way.
I walked out to the waiting room and saw my mom and husband. My mom was crying. My husband was white. I just kept thinking over and over about my little boys.
The doctor came to reassure me again, everything looks good. The biopsy was to just rule everything out. But that he’s very optimistic and almost 100% sure it’s not cancer. We all walked out. And I was pretty much numb – in every sense of the word.
And so, that’s where I am today, January 26th, on ironically of all days, National Wear It Pink Day. I don’t know the results. This isn’t a story after-the-fact. I’m living it and still in it. I am hopeful, optimistic and praying.
But the reason for the Blog, is to tell you one thing– secrets are toxic. No one, including you, has to live in silence and fear. Living in the fear, all alone, is not your only option. And this goes for any struggle you may experience in your life. When we live with truth, we can live without fear. And support is everywhere, sometimes where we least expect it.
Against the suggestion of my beloved family, I went to a board meeting for my son’s school after my biopsy last night. Three of the moms (who are also my friends), said to me afterwards, “Is everything ok? You don’t look yourself.” I started to tear up, and I shared the events of the day. I know they were shocked that I shared it. And I told them what I just told you. I don’t believe in living in secrecy and shame. And that personally for me, I’m not good at faking it. Their eyes welled up, and while the four of us were standing outside in the freezing cold and hugging, one of my friends said, “You are an example of how people should live their life. Plus the more people that know, the more people that can pray for you.”
So, in the words of Oprah (who you all know I adore)– That’s the truth as I know it. I’m petrified, but optimistic. I’m feeling overly sensitive today, and that’s fine. Perhaps you can hold me in your prayers. I’ll tell you when I know, either way.
Thank you for reading.
That is my story. The results, thank goodness, were good. I shared my story again today for the same reason I shared it initially – awareness and support. To remind you that your tribe, your community, your sisterhood, is there for you. And you don’t have to suffer alone.
May I also provide some breast cancer prevention tips.
Tips for Breast Cancer Prevention:
Among the easiest things to control are what you eat and drink and how active you are. Here are some strategies that may help you decrease your risk of breast cancer:
- Limit alcohol. A link exists between alcohol consumption and breast cancer. How strong a link remains to be determined. The type of alcohol consumed — wine, beer or mixed drinks — seems to make no difference. To protect yourself from breast cancer, consider limiting alcohol to less than one drink a day or avoid alcohol completely.
- Maintain a healthy weight. There’s a clear link between obesity — weighing more than is appropriate for your age and height — and breast cancer. This is especially true if you gain the weight later in life, particularly after menopause. Experts speculate that estrogen production in fatty tissue may be the link between obesity and breast cancer risk.
- Stay physically active. Regular exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight and, as a consequence, may aid in breast cancer prevention. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week. If you haven’t been particularly active in the past, start your exercise program slowly and gradually work up to a greater intensity. Try to include weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging or aerobics. These have the added benefit of keeping your bones strong.
- Consider limiting fat in your diet. Results from the most definitive study of dietary fat and breast cancer risk to date suggest a slight decrease in risk of invasive breast cancer for women who eat a low-fat diet. But the effect is modest at best. However, by reducing the amount of fat in your diet, you may decrease your risk of other diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke. And a low-fat diet may protect against breast cancer in another way if it helps you maintain a healthy weight — another factor in breast cancer risk. For a protective benefit, limit fat intake to less than 35 percent of your daily calories and restrict foods high in saturated fat.
- Limit Stress: There is a link between psychological stress and breast cancer aggressiveness. Watch your stress levels. Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Vitamin B are all aids in stress reduction. Vitamin C clears cortisol (stress hormone) out of your bloodstream. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to cancer, depression and immunity problems- Vitamin D is a great supplement to consume, especially while entering the winter months. Vitamin B has been known as “the feel good” vitamin, elevating your mood and even possibly boosting your metabolism. We are really discovering just how dangerous the effects of stress are on your body.
- Regular self-examination or clinical examination is key in early detection. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Over 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. When breast cancer is detected early (localized stage), the 5-year survival rate is 98%.
Let’s do our part to spread awareness, prevention strategies, and the important reminder to CHECK YOURSELF.
Wishing you great HEALTH,