In July 2021, I was diagnosed with triple positive Stage 2B breast cancer with one positive lymph node, at my first ever routine mammogram and ultrasound at age 40.
I have a family history, so I was able to start screening at age 40 in Alberta. My surgeon and oncologist were unable to feel the 4cm lump due to breast density. My family physician told me I have dense breasts, so proactively ordered an ultrasound to be done with the mammogram – I have since learned that you can’t tell by feel if breasts are dense or not; it’s determined from the mammogram. My mammogram results state that my breasts are heterogeneously dense (C). I visited a women’s imaging clinic, and was able to have both tests, as well as the biopsy that followed, all on the same day. I am grateful I didn’t have to wait for the biopsy as I was in complete shock about needing one.
The most helpful self screening tip I received was from the mammogram tech. I was told to stand topless in front of a mirror once a month and lift my arms straight up over my head, and to look for puckers, skin changes, dimples, etc. When I got home I did just that, and I had a definite pucker exactly where my tumour was! I wish I would have known that tip earlier, as I might have caught my cancer sooner before it spread. I was also told to lean forward topless and inspect as well, as shape changes may be seen with a tumour. I feel like these tips are not as well known as they should be; I’m an RN, and I didn’t even know! Now it’s my mission to make sure more people know to do these extra inspections with their self breast exams.
I finished 16 months of treatment in Nov. 2022 after 20 rounds of chemotherapy, 23 doses of immunotherapy (for the HER2+), surgery, and radiation. I went through 6 extremely tough rounds of chemo and immunotherapy before surgery, and unfortunately, I still had residual disease when I had my lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy, so I was given the option to go back on a targeted chemo for 14 more rounds. I reluctantly agreed. It’s a fairly new medication for my use (Kadcyla), and since it was mixed with the immunotherapy, the side effects weren’t as terrible. I will also remain on Tamoxifen for 5 years due to being estrogen positive.
I am glad to be finished treatment, but the fear of the cancer returning never leaves. I am still working with a therapist through my local cancer centre to help me transition back to my “normal life” and to manage the fears. I feel like I’m a different person since my diagnosis, and it’s difficult to explain to people who have never fought cancer. My friends wanted to throw me a party for finishing treatment, but I wasn’t as happy as I thought I would be to be done, so I declined the party. I tire easily and sometimes feel very alone, because many people seem to think that because I’m done treatment, that I’m “all better.”
I still haven’t returned to work, though I hope to in the next few months. I still struggle daily with fatigue like I never knew existed. I am lucky that I have benefits through work, so I received disability payments.
I will have a mammogram and ultrasound yearly from now on, and I will definitely be monitoring myself using the tips I received at my mammogram. I am going to ask my family physician if I qualify for additional screening as well (like MRI), based on what I have learned during the experience.