My story begins when I was 53, in the early months of 2018. I noticed that I had lost weight and was concerned because a) I wasn’t trying to lose weight and b) I was post menopausal which makes weight loss challenging. At that point I had lost 10% of my body weight in a few months so I made an appointment with my family doctor. He immediately ordered tests, including a mammogram.
The test results were all normal; however my mammogram results did mention that my breast tissue density was “extreme”. I already knew that my breast tissue was dense but had no idea that it was extremely dense. I tried not to worry about it but the weight kept coming off. At 5’10”, I had slipped under 130 lbs and I was starting to look angular.
We had planned a trip to Europe for October of that year. Three days prior to that trip, I found a small lump on my left breast. My family doctor was away but his replacement was able to see me and managed to allay my fears by stating that it felt like a cyst (of which I had many over the years). He said that he would schedule me for an ultrasound once I returned, just to be on the safe side. I went on our trip feeling a sense of relief.
The ultrasound resulted in the radiologist doing a biopsy in both the lump and in the lymph nodes. I knew then that it was not going to be good news. I was diagnosed with Stage 3a Ductal Carcinoma, ER and PR negative, Her2 positive.
I opted for a double mastectomy, a decision I’ve never regretted. My mother had breast cancer in 1998, and years later both of her sisters were diagnosed. So it is definitely a familial thing though it’s not been linked to any genes at this point.
I started with surgery in January of 2019 which was followed by 8 rounds of AC-T chemo and 30 rounds of radiation. I also was on Herceptin until May of 2020.
I can say that the side effects of chemo were definitely unpleasant but overall, I did very well. I bottomed out at 113 pounds but I have rebounded since!
I’ve always wondered if the tumour was there when I had my mammogram in early 2018 and, if that was the case, could it have been caught earlier via MRI? I don’t dwell on it for myself but I do want recommendations for women with dense breast tissue to change. Prior to my diagnosis, I did try to get into a program to have yearly MRIs but in order to qualify, I needed a lifetime risk factor of over 25%. Mine was 18% so that meant yearly mammograms only (and ultrasounds, if indicated). The fortunate piece that has come out of this is that my sister DID qualify after my diagnosis and now will get yearly MRIs. I am so grateful for this but we need to include breast density in risk factor assessment, not just first degree relatives who have had breast cancer.
As an aside, I want to say that my post cancer life has been amazing. I joined a breast cancer dragon boat team in my hometown of Hamilton. I exercise regularly and eat much better than I did before my diagnosis. I also co-facilitate a breast cancer support group at a local cancer support centre. I’m doing my best to take a negative experience and turn into a positive “aftermath”.
DBC Note: Since Lori-Anne’s diagnosis, a new risk calculator includes your density. Please calculate your risk here https://ibis.ikonopedia.com/ and if your lifetime risk is over 25%, MRIs are recommended.