By Pam Coyle
Just wanted to get your attention….Early detection, my story.
My breasts are lumpy and dense, and I started getting annual mammograms in my late 30s because even my gynecologists struggled to rule out possible tumors with manual exams.
No woman enjoys the process, physically or otherwise. More than once I’ve cried in the clinic’s parking garage because my type of breast tissue takes the ritual squishing beyond uncomfortable. The pain, though brief, at times makes me nauseous.
In mid-2009 I “graduated” to twice-yearly mammograms after a biopsy of my left breast found micro-calcifications, a non-malignant but potentially troublesome condition. I joked the diagnosis landed me on “the watch list.”
So, twice a year, I did the deed. Or rather, exceptionally kind and talented technicians did it to me. Given my history, the staff radiologist checked the images right away, and I’d be cleared for six more months. I’d whine and wonder when the six-month business was going to stop, though my gynecologist kept the order in place.
Last November, the radiologist did not clear me to leave. I stayed for an ultrasound. The next day I returned for a biopsy – this time on the right. Three days later I got the news.
I had joined the pink ribbon tribe at age 50. Seven months earlier, my mammogram had been clean. The tumor at that time had been too small to detect.
Advances in breast cancer treatment have swelled the ranks of survivors but we can’t get to treatment without detection. In my case, early detection shaped treatment decisions and had immediate benefits. A routine lumpectomy extracted a small tumor, 1.2 cm in diameter, and determined the multiplying cancer cells had not reached my lymph nodes. These and additional factors qualified me for a short course of radiation – twice a day for five days, not the grueling 35 days in a row that most women endure. I am on hormone therapy but did not need chemotherapy.
If another six months had passed, the tumor would have at least doubled in size, possibly sending its evil cells into the lymph nodes, requiring chemo and then the standard, full-course radiation.
Early detection can mean life or death. In my case, early detection meant I got my life back fairly quickly.
If you or someone you love is due, or overdue, for a mammogram, get it done now. Beat the crowds. And trust me, there will be crowds. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, screening centers are busy. Into November and December, the offices of breast specialists are packed.
I know. I’ve been there.
Expert Patty Harmon answers your questions.
All the above information has been reviewed by this week’s expert.