Today’s story is particularly touching and particularly informative. While I keep stressing that mammograms are so important, I definitely haven’t stressed enough the importance of self-exam and clinical exam. We’ll talk about that after the story today. Here’s today’s story shared by Theresa Wiza, a fellow AC producer:
Thank you for asking for my opinion and advice about having breast cancer.
I think one thing I’d like to say, first and foremost, is NOT to rely on mammograms alone. I know that goes against the common argument for them, but I had a mammogram in May of 2009 that was clear, and by September, 2009, I had a lump the size of a marble. Two weeks later that lump grew to 4 cm. wide.
By the time I got to the oncologist I was in Stage II (out of five stages ‘” 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4). So only four months after receiving a free and clear mammogram, I was already in Stage II. To think that, if I hadn’t noticed the lump when I did, I would have waited another eight months for my next mammogram ‘” well, let’s just say, I’m grateful I found it when I did.
In light of my personal experience, I highly recommend performing monthly self exams. The best thing women (and men) can do is to become familiar with their own bodies and to pay attention to any changes. I don’t mean to come off sounding preachy, because I found mine accidentally ‘” it took the interruption of receiving a text from one of my grandsons in the middle of the night for me to find it ‘” but I firmly believe that had I not noticed the lump when I did, and had I waited another eight months for my next mammogram, I might not be here today.
So many options are available to cancer patients today, from mastectomies to double mastectomies to lumpectomies. Making the decision about what to do is difficult, but I have been fortunate in that I have had people from the Mills Breast Cancer Institute practically cradle me the entire time I’ve been in treatment. They have held my hand every step of the way and they have always answered all of my questions before I even thought to ask them. I hope anybody who receives a breast cancer diagnosis, or any cancer diagnosis, for that matter, is fortunate enough to get the kind of care I received.
Another thing I’d like to mention is that (for me, anyway) the worst part about getting cancer was figuring out who to tell and what to say. I address the issue more thoroughly in my latest cancer article, Diagnosis: Breast Cancer ‘” Part V (located at http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5838788/diagnosis_breast_cancer_part_v.html?cat=5), but I’d like to say that from my personal observations, I think cancer is much harder on family members and friends than it is on the person who has cancer. That alone could be the reason many people steer clear of loved ones when cancer affects one member. Some people see it as a death sentence and don’t know how to deal with it.
Fortunately, my friends and family rallied in support and in prayer for me. I WANTED their prayers. I believe prayer is what contributed to the tumor shrinking from 4 cm. wide to being nearly imperceptible after only two chemo treatments.
I’m still fighting my battle. Though I have completed radiation and chemotherapy, I must take a pill every day for five years. I have invasive ductal carcinoma, and I carry the Her-2/Neu gene. This type of cancer has a high recurrence rate ‘” the pill I take has proven to be successful in preventing further cancerous tumors from growing, and if I have no more breast cancer recurrence over the next five years, I can consider myself to be in remission.
My hair is growing back ‘” I am now in what I call the Captain Kangaroo phase. I’d send a picture, but all you have to do is find him online and you’ll have a pretty clear idea of what I look like now. It helps to have a sense of humor, because every time I look in the mirror, I find myself thinking, “Don’t look at me ‘” I’m hideous.” (Not that I think Captain Kangaroo is hideous ‘” his hair style does not suit me. What movie did those words come from anyway?)
Thank you, Jenn, for giving me an opportunity to share my experience with breast cancer. By giving so many people the chance to discuss breast cancer, you are presenting a well-rounded picture of what this disease is like. You’re giving faces to breast cancer and providing a lot of great information. From one who was given a diagnosis of breast cancer just last year, I want to thank you for your positive contributions to Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Thankyou Theresa for sharing your story to help raise awareness of breast cancer by sharing your personal story! It brings to attention something very important in the fight against breast cancer. Early detection through self awareness. I know I can say I’m behind you 100% in keeping you in my prayers during this time. I am sure everyone else has you in their hearts and minds as well.
Two Different Types of Mammograms and Why They Are Done
1) Screening mammogram- A screening mammogram is done as part of a yearly exam before any changes or problems arise. Doctors used to suggest one base screening between thirty five and forty, to use as a base or guide for future mammograms, to see any subtle differences. Then, once a year from forty on. The new recommendations seem to go back and forth, depending on where you get your information.
The screening mammograms are said: “to miss up to 20 percent of breast cancers that are present at the time of screening…False-negative results can lead to delays in treatment and a false sense of security for affected women.”
Pretty scary stuff. Completely correlates with what happened to Theresa though. She went and did what she was supposed to do, and either it was not seen or it grew that fast. Either way, just like the above quoted (see reference) she felt secure that everything was fine because she did as she was told she should and got her mammogram.
2) Diagnostic mammogram-If you were to go to your doctor and tell him/her that you found a lump or had other symptoms, and the doctor felt it wise, they would send you for a diagnostic mammogram. These take a little longer to complete, as they are already looking at or for a suspicious area. They take different magnifications and different angles than a screening mammogram. Depending on your clinic, you may go straight to ultrasound from the mammogram if the radiologist feels they want to rule out cysts right away. On an ultrasound, the difference can usually be seen between cysts and tumors. That is not 100% either as I will tell you all in my story for tomorrow.
Clinical Exam and Breast Self Exam
Clinical exam is when a health professional examines your breasts manually and by sight. This is important to have as a baseline, but since many practices have a number of doctors, meaning you probably won’t see the same doctor twice, be sure that doctor has read and knows your history. This leads us to breast self exam because at your clinical exam is the best time to learn how to do your self exam. Self exam is about as safe as you can get as to finding changes earliest, which leads to treatment and saving your breast and possibly your life. This is very clear by Theresa’s story. Whether by accident or on purpose, she noticed a change and it saved her life. A self exam is where you check your breasts every month. This is done preferably at the same time of the month, every month. Right before or during your period is not a good time to have this as a routine. The best way to remember is by doing it every month right after your period. To learn how to do a breast self exam, please refer to Imaginis (click please)http://www.imaginis.com/breast-health/how-to-perform-breast-self-exam-bse. There is a video as well as a detailed instruction on how to perform the exam properly. I think it is important to actually see the pictures or video as well as read the instructions. However, I will reiterate a couple important things that Imaginis teaches. They are as follows:
1) As I said above, should be done at the same time every month.
2) A good idea to remember small changes and details is by keeping a journal of your exam every month.
3) Remember important areas: Outside-armpit to collarbone, and below the breast, middle- the breast itself, inside-the nipple area.
IMPORTANT percentages as reported by Imaginis Website:
3a) Approximate percentage of breast cancers found in each area:
41% in the upper, outer quadrant
34% in the area behind the nipple
14% in the upper, inner quadrant
6% in the lower, outer quadrant
5% in the lower, inner quadrant
There are many different recommendations to be found online. Some recommendations are just appalling. For every single study that says you should screen there is now a study that says you shouldn’t. This is the most ridiculous notion I ever heard. Instead of moving forward in breast cancer detection, many studies and sites will have us all going back fifty or sixty years ago where breast cancer was a death sentence. In all these studies it is stated that one problem with detecting all these different breast cancers so early is that some you just can’t do anything about, so it just causes unneeded anxiety and worry. So apparently they would rather you stick your head in the sand and wait for whatever is going to happen. To not stand up and be advocates of our own health. I’m sorry, but I’d rather be aware, and even a little or even very scared if it meant a chance to save my life.
A study on Mindfully: Patterns and predictors of the breast cancer detection methods in women under 45 years of age:
Data was collected from1,619 women from three different areas of the US. Out of those 1,619 women, 71 percent of breast cancer had been found during a self exam. Out of those newly diagnosed 1,619 women with breast cancer, 20% were found by mammography and 9% were found during a clinical breast exam.
Please keep these numbers in mind and be aware of your body and changes it goes through. Some changes are completely normal, part of aging. That doesn’t mean you should remain unaware of them. Arm yourself with knowledge and fight with it for your life.