I watched my mum suffer through cancer of the maxillary sinus and eventually die, at 52 from a resulting brain tumour. This introduced me at an early age to the horrors of cancer, the treatments involved and the toll it took, not only on my mum but the whole family. This is why I have always tried to use every method possible for early detection.
In Nova Scotia, we are lucky as any woman can commence breast screening at the age of 40. As soon as I was able, I started with annual mammograms through the Nova Scotia Breast Screening Program.
On 29 June 2018, I went for my annual mammogram. However, this time I was presenting with a lump I had recently found on the underside of my right breast. In hindsight, I should’ve gone to my family doctor first, but assumed this would be the quickest route as I had already had my mammogram appointment.
I informed the radiologist, who marked the suspect area with a sticker which she said would show on the mammogram letting the radiologist know that this was an area of concern. She told me not to be alarmed as I would probably get a letter requesting me to go to the hospital for a diagnostic mammogram. This was routine protocol because of the placement of the sticker.
About a week later, I received a letter stating the radiologist who read my mammogram did not detect any evidence of cancer at this time. It was a huge relief and as I’d been plagued with ovarian cysts for years I assumed it was just a cyst and went about daily life for months. Thankfully, and purely by chance, I had a PAP smear mid September and just happened to mention the lump and told the doctor I wasn’t concerned as I’d had a mammogram and all was well. A requisition was done and I was sent for a diagnostic mammogram which I had early October. The radiologist felt the lump and said that due to dense breast tissue it wasn’t showing on mammogram! This was shocking to me and the first I’d heard, in all the years of screening mammograms I’d had, that I had dense breast tissue and realized the implications. She did an immediate ultrasound and later that month I had an ultrasound core biopsy performed.
6 November 2018, the day we were supposed to be celebrating our 10 years of living in Canada, my husband and I were sitting in our doctor’s office being told the devastating news that at 48 I had breast cancer! Mid November, we met with the surgeon who informed us that it was invasive lobular carcinoma. Only 1 in 10 women that develop breast cancer are confirmed to have this type. Not only did I have dense breast tissue but invasive lobular cancer is apparently notoriously difficult to detect using mammography alone. This had given me a double whammy. Due to the difficulty in detection and the fact that we have two little girls, aged 6 and 9, at the time I opted for a bilateral mastectomy.
The bilateral mastectomy was performed on 13 December 2018, my husbands birthday! Unfortunately when we went for my follow up appointment and to hear the results to the pathology, it was found to be far worse than they had first diagnosed. It was a 3cm tumour, 6 out of the 7 lymph nodes removed all tested positive for cancer and I was classed as Stage 3! I was sent to a medical
oncologist and started 6 cycles of FEC-D chemotherapy over 18 weeks.
Chemotherapy was the most horrendous experience of my life and with two little girls and both our families living in England, not easy at all. Thankfully, I am blessed to have very supportive friends and our family will be forever grateful for their love and support throughout this. I was so ill for 2 weeks out of 3 for every cycle not only from the chemotherapy, but from the drugs given for the side effects and drugs for the side effects of the side effects. I also ended up with phlebitis and permanent collapsed veins in one arm. Due to pain and immobility from this I now have a frozen shoulder on that side too!
I was then allocated a radiation oncologist and started 15 high radiation treatments given daily over the 3 weeks. The medical oncologist deemed that Letrozole, an aromatase inhibitor, taken daily was my best chance to stop recurrence. However, this drug can only be given to women who have completed menopause. Being too young for this, I was given injections every 3 months to force my body into menopause. I was sent to a gynecologist and have just had a Salpingo oophorectomy surgery performed to remove my ovaries and Fallopian tubes negating the need for injections for many years to come.
To me breast cancer is so scary because apart from my seemingly insignificant lump I felt absolutely fine. I climbed onto the operating table for my double mastectomy still finding it hard to believe that I had cancer. It is only now after all the horrendous treatments, procedures, surgeries and medications that I can tell what a toll it has taken on me. I’ve had so many blood tests, needle pokes, mammograms, CT of the chest, MRI of the breast, MUGA scan for my heart, bone density scan, bone scan and CT simulation it’s frightening. I’m currently awaiting another bone scan and a CT scan of my head due to new issues that have come to light.
If only I had known when I had my first mammogram that I had dense breast tissue, the implications and what further screening I should’ve had access too. I firmly believe that if it had been detected early enough I could at least not had my lymph nodes affected and avoided chemotherapy and all it’s horrendous after effects. Through breast cancer I’ve lost not only both breasts, my beautiful long hair, my ovaries and Fallopian tubes but I have the constant worry, due to the lymph node involvement, that my little girls will not even have their mum with them for as long as I did. I was 24 when I lost my mum, my girls are now 7 and 9! Early detection is vital!