Updated: Oct 13, 2022
My Aunt Betty was the first story I heard of Breast Cancer. The next was her sister, my grandmother, Emma; she had a lateral mastectomy and is currently a 30 years survivor. The doom of the Big C has consistently lingered over the women in my family, so much so that I started receiving mammograms in my early 20s to ensure that if something came up, I caught it as early as possible.
My Breast Cancer story begins...
On June 1st, 2022, I went in for my yearly mammogram. I alternate between years, so I do 3D mammograms with a breast ultrasound on odd years and just the 3D mammogram on even years. (This is just something that me and my OBGYN planned together due to the density of my breasts). The mammogram in June came back negative, with nothing suspicious to report.
Fourth of July weekend, I noticed a hard, painful lump under my right breast while doing my self-breast exam. I breastfed my kids, so I thought it was just a clogged milk duct for the first two weeks. When the pain continued, to the point that wearing an under-wire would aggravate it, I told my daughters I probably should get it checked out, and they 100% agreed. I made an appointment with my OBGYN for the following week. I was a little nervous but was still pretty confident that it was nothing to worry about. When I saw Dr. Russell, she said, "I feel TWO lumps, and I want you to get some additional imaging." MY HEART DROPPED. At that moment, I KNEW it was cancer, but I told myself not to freak out until I had ALL the facts.
She immediately scheduled me with a breast ultrasound so they could get a closer look, as well as a targeted mammogram. The results were that the area definitely looked "suspicious." Next, she ordered a biopsy for the next week. About seven weeks (August 26th, 2022) after a "clear" mammogram, I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS). When Dr. Russell called me from her personal number (she's been my OBGYN for almost 13 years), I knew immediately what she would tell me. I fell to the floor and didn't hear most of her words. Finally, she told me she would call me back so that I could listen to everything. DCIS is called "PreCancer" Cancer and is often missed, especially in Black women.
Next, Dr. Russell recommended me to a breast surgeon for the next steps. Immediately my breast surgeon said she wanted additional imaging because she was 1. Shocked that I had found this tumor myself, and 2. She wanted to ensure nothing else was missed, possibly with the mammogram and ultrasound. So she scheduled me for an MRI, which is the next level up for imaging. Never one to be ordinary (oh, how I wish in this situation I was..LOL), two additional areas of concern were found only in my right breast. Now, I'm really freaking out. A few things could be true for these additional areas:
1. It could be nothing; I do have very dense breast
2. It could be additional DCIS, noninvasive, like the first area
3. It could be DCIS, invasive, meaning it's spread outside of the ducts but not outside of the breast
4. Or it could be a different type of breast cancer altogether
Sheer fear and total calm came over me while I waited the six days for the MRI-guided biopsy that my breast surgeon scheduled to find out precisely what the additional areas were.
Every possible worst-case came into my mind. Still, and oddly, at the same time, there was also a little comfort because I knew that I had imaging to compare from the last two years (I missed a year due to the pandemic). So I had to believe that, through God, I just caught something extremely early or that the additional areas were benign and nothing at all. (of course, I prayed for the latter to be confirmed).
The next day, the results came in. I had three areas of cancer in three different quadrants of my breasts. However, it was all Stage 0 Ductal Carcinoma! I had caught extensive cancer in my breast early, through a self-breast exam! That was nothing but the God I serve! I have the most fantastic care team and will share my journey through surgery and recovery with my tribe and followers of my blog and social media because I want us to take the fear out of the diagnosis and THRIVE with Breast Cancer, not merely survive!
We've Only Just Begun...
In the last four weeks alone, I have met the entire team that will be with me through this journey (oncologist, radiation therapy team, breast surgeon, physical therapist, & my plastic surgeon,) and I genuinely believe in them. I got second opinions on some suggestions during this journey, and I feel I have a solid plan. While I may not document every part of the journey in real time, I plan to share it along the way.
I will have a double mastectomy with the first phase of breast reconstruction later this month. No chemotherapy was required before surgery, and they dont suspect, at this point, that I will need it after surgery. Still, I may need radiation (we won't know until the pathology returns after the surgery).
This is a marathon, not a sprint, but I am so grateful that early detection has allowed me to make choices in my care.
Ladies, my journey is only beginning, but I can't express it enough. Schedule your mammograms AND do your self-breast exams weekly, if not daily. It truly can save your life!