I had been having annual mammograms since I was in my 30’s because of the number of women on both sides of my family who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Year after year, the mammograms came back clear and I was assured that I was cancer free.

In September 2013, I felt a small lump in my left breast but did not visit my physician as I was going for my annual mammogram soon. I mentioned the lump at the time of my mammogram in December 2013, when 2 areas of concern were identified. An ultrasound guided needle biopsy in January 2014 indicated two invasive ductal carcinoma tumours, ER and PR positive and HER2 negative. I had a modified mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy in February 2014. Following my surgery, the pathology report indicated that I had 3 invasive carcinomas, ductal carcinoma in situ, lobular carcinoma in situ, and calcifications. Fortunately, all of the lymph nodes tested were clear. I still found myself wondering how it was that I could have clear mammograms year after year and then, suddenly, a breast so full of cancer that I couldn’t even consider a lumpectomy.

At the time, I had no idea that my breasts were dense and did not know enough to ask about my breast density status. Fast forward 4 years to the spring of 2018, when I discovered small lumps near the site of my initial mastectomy. The technician was able to feel one of the lumps when I went for my annual screening mammogram of my right breast and so I had a diagnostic mammogram of both sides. There were no suspicious lesions or microcalcifications present on mammogram. But wait, what is this? The report mentions “Type III tissue density pattern”. Hmmm…. I wonder what that means? No one has ever told me about density patterns before. I will need to look that up when I get home. On the same day, the technician fits me in for an ultrasound of my mastectomy site and my right breast. The ultrasound finds small, hypo-echoic lesions in my left and right underarm areas and in my right breast; likely benign cysts. They did not show on the mammogram and so now I find myself waiting for an MRI at the Centre for Breast Health in Saskatoon.

I have already met with a surgeon and he has recommended a second mastectomy regardless of the MRI results given all of my “disease markers”. Still, no mention of breast density. Thank goodness for the internet and the work of Dense Breasts Canada. I am finally starting to put the pieces together – my initial cancer didn’t just show up out of the blue, it was likely taking it’s time and growing undetected. All that time, and not one person on my medical team informed me of my breast density status or what it could mean. My fingers are crossed for benign cysts, but I am more educated now and making an effort to get the information out to others. I am sure that is what my mother, who died of secondary bone cancer 14 years ago, would want me to do.

Gayle lives in Saskatchewan and was diagnosed in 2014 at age 47, 14 months after a normal mammogram.