My Personal Story of Breast Cancer Prevention
“Check the girls”… it’s a lighthearted take on a serious subject. It came to me in February 2010. I was 36 years old, a mother of 3 young children, and still recovering from an elective bilateral mastectomy I had less than 2 months prior.
On that chilly February morning, I was getting dressed and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror… I froze. I stood there, looking at my disfigured chest, trying to remember why I did what I did. I made a conscious choice to intentionally have my breasts surgically removed in an effort to prevent breast cancer. Why? How did I come to this decision? Believe me, it was not an easy decision, but it was the right one for me.
My maternal grandmother was diagnosed at age 65. I was a kid then and to me, it "made sense." She was older. Then, my mom was diagnosed at age 48. I was in college and it seemed scarier...she was younger and I understood more of what it meant. Thankfully, both were diagnosed with early stages of the disease. Their surgeries and subsequent treatments were successful, with no recurrences.
Beginning around the age of 20 at my yearly check-ups, my physicians would tell me to be "vigilant and proactive" with my breast health. I didn't completely know what that meant at my age, but I presumed that it meant monthly self-exams, regular clinical exams, and perhaps a mammogram before age 40.
The Letter That Changed My Life
Two days after my 35th birthday, I enrolled in a breast cancer prevention program at KU Med Center. Several months later, I had my first mammogram and fine needle biopsies of both my breasts, as part of the program. A month after the biopsies, I received a letter in the mail from the program director. It was determined from the random biopsies that I had atypical, or precancerous, cells in at least one, and possibly both of my breasts. How could this be? I was 35, active, and an overall healthy person.
Regardless of how active or healthy I was, this was out of my control. Over the next 12 months, I underwent more tests, biopsies, MRIs, medical consultations, and genetic consultations. The fact was that my chances of developing breast cancer were estimated at 60-65%, based on all the medical information my physicians now had. I felt like a sitting duck…just waiting to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I had 3 young children to think about. I knew I had to take matters into my own hands.
Surgery – Out With the Bad, In With the Good – With Plenty of Tears Along the Way
In December 2009, I had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. In layman’s terms, that is a surgery where the breast tissue is removed from both breasts in an effort to prevent breast cancer in high risk women. During the 8-hour surgery, my breast tissue was removed and temporary tissue expanders were put into place. Once I was mostly healed from the first surgery, I spent the next several months having fluid slowly injected into the tissue expanders. In November 2010, I underwent a 3-hour surgery to have the tissue expanders removed and permanent implants put into place.
On the outside, I have a figure again. But, underneath my clothes, I have permanent scars that remind me how important it is to be vigilant and proactive and to learn your personal breast cancer risk and your options based on that risk. Because of the choice I made, my risk of developing breast cancer made a drastic decrease from an estimated 65% to approximately 3-5%.
A New Beginning & Commitment to Help Others
So, here I am…healthy and happy. I’m sharing my story and working to educate others to be empowered and to take their breast health into their own hands…literally. And, I have the opportunity to give back to help women who want to be proactive with their breast health, but who don't have the means to pay.