Reposted from October 7, 2014.
It’s that time of year again. Young or old, be sure to do routine self-exams of your breasts, make that annual appointment with your doctor, and get your routine mammograms. I was one of the lucky ones whose breast cancer was caught early via a mammogram. A routine screening mammogram found something which required a followup diagnostic mammogram. Thereafter I had a double stereotactic biopsy on my right breast.
I had to wait 10 days from the day of the biopsies for the test results. On July 21, 2010 at 10:20 AM, I received the call from my doctor telling me I’d been diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC). In less than 2 weeks, I had blood work, a mammogram on my healthy breast, an MRI on both, a CT Scan, a bone scan, and a lymph node survey. After the bone scan my surgical oncologist wanted me to get a PET scan. He said there were lesions on my bones. Yikes! Thankfully, the PET scan showed no evidence of cancer. Breast cancer can be deadly when it spreads to your bones, brain, lungs, or liver.
After all of that was said and done, I saw a medical oncologist to discuss surgery because I was opting out of it. I didn’t want to live with a mutilated body. Not having surgery meant certain death and I accepted that at the time. In the end, I did opt to have surgery after all.
On August 30, 2010, I had a bilateral mastectomy to remove both breasts and two lymph nodes. As it turned out, no lymph nodes were involved. If there had been involvement, it would have been easier for the cancer to spread to more distant sites in the body via the lymphatic system. My staging was determined to be Stage I. So I was one of the lucky ones.
Chemo, You Ask? The Oncotype DX Test
There’s a test to see if one would benefit from chemotherapy. It’s called the Oncotype DX test. If you are being treated for breast cancer, talk to your doctor about this test. They test the breast tissue from your surgery. Luckily I didn’t need chemo or radiation. All I have needed is this little pill every morning for 10 years, a hormone blocker since my cancer was hormone receptor positive. That means that my cancer needs estrogen in order to grow. But since I was positive for hormone receptors, the hormone blocker would starve any cancer that might be left. Looking back now, I do think it would have given me peace of mind if I had undergone treatment. I worry about a recurrence.
If you can, especially if it runs in your family, get a genetic test to see if you have a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes which raises your risk for cancer. If tested positive, there are ways of being proactive to avoid developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and other cancers. I had the test and tested negative.
Be Mindful of your Breast Health
If you’ve run across irregular changes in your breasts, be sure to go for the followups that are recommended by your doctor. Even if your doctor has not made any such recommendations, trust me, you want to get checked out 6 months later. In December of 2009 I went through the screening mammogram, diagnostic mammogram, and stereotactic biopsy, in the right breast. There was benign tissue the size of a pea that was removed. Six months later in June, I had a followup mammogram which led to the cancer diagnosis, in my right breast. So I can’t stress enough how important it is to pay attention to your breast health. I’m not saying something like that always leads to cancer. It’s just better to play it safe.
As far as you guys are concerned, although rare, men can develop breast cancer. So if your doctor suggests a mammogram, it would be wise for you to follow his advice.