In September of 2016 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had gone for a routine annual mammogram which turned out to be anything but routine. Accustomed to getting the all-clear, I was quite taken aback when the interpreting radiologist took me to a private room and showed me what was concerning on the film. My gut instinct upon seeing the film was that a biopsy would come back positive for malignancy and indeed it did. The good news was that the cancer wasn’t invasive; the bad news was that I had cancer at all. Because this type of breast cancer has the potential of growing and becoming invasive it had to go. So I underwent surgery, followed by five grueling weeks of radiation. Having to undergo radiation on a daily basis was pretty rough. At Pennsylvania Hospital, where I had the radiation, there’s a bell in the waiting room that patients ring when they’ve completed their course of treatment. After the last treatment I rang the bell and the other patients cheered! And after a six-month follow-up mammogram I was declared cancer-free.
In most cases the key to overcoming breast cancer is early detection, when the cancer is most treatable. My aunt Ann, who never had a mammogram until she was in her eighties, died of breast cancer. So did my cousin Connie, who for a long time was in denial and then spent thousands on holistic healing and quack remedies, eschewing conventional medicine. My mother, on the other hand, was diagnosed with breast cancer in her fifties and lived to be 92. She felt a lump in one breast, knew that something was wrong and sought medical attention without delay. Of course there are exceptions. A friend of a friend was recently diagnosed with a particularly virulent, aggressive form of breast cancer which quickly metastasized to the liver and she is now in hospice, dying of liver cancer.
It has been estimated that women in the USA have a 1 in 8 lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Those are not good odds. And that’s why breast cancer awareness is so crucial. Mammography, self-examination and regular visits to a GYN can save many lives. In my case the cancer was not palpable so the only way it could be detected was by mammography and subsequent biopsy. That’s why I remain a strong advocate of annual mammograms. For the rest of my life I will be worried about a recurrence – as is common in those who’ve had breast cancer once – but at least I’m staying on top of things and getting regular screenings. I’m coming up on the 2nd anniversary of my breast cancer surgery and from that perspective things are looking good.