Today, February 10, 2019, marks the fourth year since my bilateral mastectomy. Four years since I was told by Dr. Hoagland it was the “best possible outcome” and my tumor had completely dissolved into itself. Woo-hoo!! 🎉🥳 I will forever remember that fuzzy, post-surgical moment for as long as I have breath in me.
There are two days each year that I will always harp on you to get your mammograms and do your self exams: July 27th and February 10th. I received the diagnosis of breast cancer on July 21, 2014, but I “announced” it publicly to extended family and friends on social media on July 27th. The other date is today, February 10th, the day of my surgery.
Between July and February, I had surgery to insert a port, a vicious and nasty chemo cocktail of Taxotere, Carboplatin, Perjeta, and Herceptin, x-rays, mammograms, genetic testing, consults, hospital admissions, puke fests, labs and heart studies (to make sure the chemo wasn’t causing problems). At the time, it was the hardest thing I’d been through. Of course, it wasn’t but I wouldn’t know that for a couple of years.
Because my tumor was ER+, PR+, HER2+, I was able to have chemo before I had surgery. I started chemo with blonde hair (well, light brown hair that had been highlighted blonde) and the intent to have a lumpectomy. Somewhere along the way, after several hospital admissions I had the feeling that I needed to consider a more aggressive surgical treatment. I spoke with my breast surgeon, Dr. Hoagland, about my options. I told him I was thinking about going with a bilateral mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy. My thinking was that I had such a hard time with the chemo and its impact on my type 1 diabetes that I wasn’t sure I could handle it if it made a reappearance. He sent me to Dr. Noel for a consult and from then on, I was set on the idea of a mastectomy.
I have written before about the timing of my diagnosis and that I truly believe God led me on a journey with paths that would cross with a woman named Joy, another patient at Louisville Cardiology that, after seeing my scarf covered head, offered to show me her mastectomy scars, to the random woman at Kroger who saw me after I’d been released from a hospital stay and hugged me and told me she had been there, and to another stranger who saw my bald head in Oxmoor Mall and asked if I had alopecia (her son has alopecia and she thought it was so brave that I was walking about with a totally bald head). People I would never have met otherwise gave me courage and strength to persevere.
So, today I offer this reminder: take care of you as much as you take care of others. It’s ok to put yourself first sometimes. After all, if you don’t take care of you, who will?
Schedule your mammogram if you’re due or overdue for it. But, more importantly, do your self breast exams. If I hadn’t attended Joy’s funeral in 2012, I wouldn’t have promised myself and God that I was going to take better care of myself. I began doing my self exams more seriously after Joy’s death. Here’s an interesting timeline:
September 2012 – Joy’s funeral
February 2013 – I had a routine mammogram
April 2014 – I found a lump that I began watching
July 2014 – over a few weeks, I met with my GYN to check out lump, had a mammogram, had an ultrasound, had a biopsy, and ultimately received a diagnosis of hormone positive breast cancer
When I first found my lump, I was 41 years old; diagnosis came just after I turned 42. I have no family history of breast cancer on my mom’s side (my dad’s aunt and her daughter had breast cancer but genetic testing said those wouldn’t have impacted my type of tumor).
So I shouldn’t have ever been at risk for breast cancer. I was young(ish) and had no family history. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Don’t NOT have mammograms or self exams because you think you’re too young, or have no risk. Also, don’t not do them because you’re afraid that you might find a lump. I promise, finding it as early as possible can save your life.