I am a health coach and personal trainer. I live with my common-law partner of 20 years in Newmarket, Ontario. We are child-free by choice, and we spend our weekends salsa dancing in downtown Toronto. My ancestral/community background is Korean, and I am 50 years of age.
Mon histoire avec le cancer du sein
I was 44 years old when I found a lump in my breast. I didn?t even have a family doctor at the time, so I went to a walk-in clinic. The doctor asked me questions, such as my age (I was considered very young), and whether I had a family history (at the time, I didn?t). I am also physically active and in good health. Based on my answers, he said it is probably nothing, but he will order an ultrasound and mammogram anyways.
Not only did we discover that it wasn?t ?nothing,? but that there was a second lump in my breast, both of which were highly suspicious of cancer. The biopsy confirmed I had Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, but that it looked like it was stage I. I was scheduled for a lumpectomy several weeks later. After the surgical pathology came back, we found out that the tumours were more than double the size than they originally thought, and that the cancer had spread into a lymph node. I opted out of radiation therapy and chemo was not indicated. The plan moving forward was to have a mammogram every year, and visits with my doctors every four months, for five years.
I had just had my 2nd annual follow-up mammogram, and was given the all-clear. I also had physical breast exams by my surgeon and oncologist that year. But that whole time, there was a voice in the back of my head that my breast simply did not feel the same. Something was different. But the mammogram and two different doctors made no mention of that. It was later that year that I finally made an appointment with my family doctor, and she ordered an ultrasound. And this started the whole process that confirmed my second diagnosis. Based on the information they had, it was inconclusive whether this was the same cancer that recurred, or whether this was an entirely new cancer. We didn?t know it at the time, but it was a 5 cm tumour. (I often wonder now if I was misdiagnosed the first time, and there was a third tumour there from day one.)
This time, I found out I had to do a mastectomy. The implications were dizzying. Do I reconstruct? If so, what kind of reconstruction? The options were seemingly endless. When the time came, I chose to do a bilateral mastectomy with a flat closure. Before I went into surgery, I gave my breasts a little silent blessing. I thanked them for fighting hard to keep the cancer contained, and for doing their best to keep the cancer from spreading. There was a calm that came over me when I walked into that surgery room. Once I healed from my surgery, I decided I was not going to wear prosthetics, and I altered most of my clothing to fit a flat chest. I loved the fact that this was an option, and that I can still look and feel beautiful in a way that empowered me.
Something I wanted to share: a few months after my first diagnosis, my mom went back to her doctor to get a second opinion with a lump in her breast. She had just had her bi-annual mammogram several months prior, and the results were clear. This time, her doctor ordered an ultrasound. We were both dumbfounded to discover that she, too, had breast cancer.
Shortly afterwards, I got tested for the breast cancer gene mutations – it came back negative, so our diagnoses were pure coincidence, and had nothing to do with our genetics. I don?t know that I?ll go so far as to say that I?m grateful that I was diagnosed with breast cancer, but I will say this much: my diagnosis potentially saved her life. I?m not sure that she would have gone back to her doctor had it not been for the fact that I was diagnosed first. She is doing great now, too, and I?m so grateful for that.
Ce que j’aimerais vous dire
Do your breast exams. Know what your breasts feel like. If you have dense breasts, mammograms are not always accurate. So trust yourself and your gut. Had I not spoken up about my breasts, who knows how long it would have taken to find that latest tumour? If my mom hadn?t spoken up, how long would it have been for her?
Cancer is frightening, and it can be a long and lonely journey. Many of us continue to be tested and scanned for 5 to 10 years, and sometimes for life. Don?t forget your friends.
Diagnosed at 44