Looking back now, I credit the Algonquin Hotel in St. Andrews, New Brunswick for helping me find my breast cancer. I was attending a conference at the hotel and gearing up for a busy day when I hopped in the shower. The hotel showers do not have those puffs that I use at home to wash myself. Instead, I grabbed the hotel bar of soap. My soapy hand grazed over the underside of my left breast and there it was. The dreaded lump. And it was big — just a wee bit smaller than a golf ball. How the hell did I not notice that before? I poked and prodded at it as if that would make it go away. I swallowed my panic. It can’t be cancer, I told myself. It’s just a cyst. It’s fine. I just had a clear mammogram four months earlier for God’s sake.
It was not fine. It was cancer and all I could think was: this cannot be happening to me. I have two daughters who need me. I’m too young. I’ve been to Hell and back since then — breast surgery, 16 rounds of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and now hormone therapy. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t think about what would have happened if I didn’t go to that hotel without the puff. What if I didn’t find the lump for another several months and the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and bones? Would my daughters be paying tribute to their dead mother by writing my name on the back of their shirts at the Run for the Cure?
So, ladies, take a lesson from me: even if you have regular mammograms, check your breasts for lumps once per month, especially if you have dense breasts. Lumps are easily missed on mammograms if breasts are dense. Knowing that I had dense breasts may not have prevented me from getting cancer, but I would have been more diligent in monthly self-exams and would have talked to my doctor about how I was screened and how often. Your breast density matters. You need to be your own breast health advocate. Ask about your breast density, be vigilant with your self-exams and talk to your doctor about what screening methods are right for you. I’ll never know how earlier detection would have changed my treatment or prognosis. I do know this for certain: If I had known I have dense breasts, I would not have left my breast health to chance. And take it from me, neither should you.
Kathy lives in New Brunswick and initiated the #TellMe/ #DisMoi campaign, which was successful in encouraging the government in New Brunswick to notify women of their breast density. (Notification to commence later in 2019).