October may be the official month for Breast Cancer Awareness, but here on my blog that month would be May. Today, May 19th, 2008 I celebrate my five-year breast cancer survival anniversary!! A five year mark is a major point for a cancer survivor - it means that I am now statistically back in the general population.
I am a prime example why folks should be checking for common signs of cancer. There is NO breast cancer in my family so I never considered myself at risk. However, one day in April 2003 I was thinking about my aunt-by-marriage who had just gone through cancer treatment. As I showered I thought that day was as good as any to do a self-exam. And there it was - a little "blip", a little bump, like a small pea buried deep in my breast tissue. I went straight to the Dr. and they assured me it had none of the earmarks of cancer.
So on to a mammogram - my very first - I had just turned 41! The mammogram showed "extensive calcifications". Not usually cancer, but not usually seen in someone so young.
So on to a needle biopsy. I'll never forget just breaking down in tears after the surgeon left the room. I was scared to death, needing my parents, and needing some assurance. The ultrasound technician just held my hand and whispered words of comfort.
Three days later as my young daughters were playing happily with neighbor kids in the backyard, the call came. "It's Cancer". Nothing prepares you for that moment. You've heard folks talk about their blood turning to ice water? That's exactly how it felt. The floor dropped out from under my feet. "You'll need a mastectomy - there is no alternative". Another line I thought I'd never hear.
Luckily I was near some of the best health care in the country; The Piper Breast Institute at Abbott Hospital in Minneapolis. A dear woman at church heard about my diagnosis and called her sister who happens to be one of the best breast cancer surgeons in the state. Within hours I was under her care as well. The flurry of appointments with surgeons was overwhelming. At one point their lips were moving but I couldn't hear a word - I had just shut down. That kind ultrasound technician tracked me down, and said she'd been feeling so bad because the image on the screen didn't look promising.
My friends and family gathered around me and literally held me up during those days. I was flooded with calls, cards, flowers, and food - although I was so upset I couldn't eat. My youngest had her 4th birthday scheduled and my dear friend Lucy and her daughter made all the goody bags for the guests.
So on May 19th I had a mastectomy and sentinel node biopsy. Another stroke of luck - the cancer had not spread to the lymph system. Within weeks I had my first oncology appointment where I heard the marvelous words "No Chemo and No Radiation!".
So don't be afraid of a cancer diagnosis! Statistically, more people survive cancer than don't. Surgical cures happen every day, and I'm living proof.