07 September 2011

My Breast Cancer Story - Part I

Over 182,000 women were diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2008 and 182,000 stories could be told. This is just one of those stories.

One of my personality traits is that of being a perfectionist, but not always the most organized. I tend to follow rules & guidelines, but sometimes I fall short. 

On September 3, 2008, I finally got around to going through THAT box of papers. (You know the one - the one you put everything in when you're having a party . . . or visitors are coming over. You never want to take a chance on throwing something important away, so instead everything goes into the "Box To Be Gone Through Later".) As I worked, I vowed to myself to finally get organized and come up with a better filing system. My current one of going through papers once every 3 years just didn’t cut it. I began making four piles:
  • Things to file
  • Things to recycle
  • Things to shred
  • Things TO DO . . .
Suddenly, halfway through the box there it was - - the paperwork from my OB/GYN for my "annual" mammogram I'd misplaced 2 years earlier. It was the second one she had given me in 3 years. (I think the first one got recycled with the newspapers by accident. The next 2 , well, I was simply too embarrassed to go in for my annual exam and tell her I'd misplaced another one.) On this day, I wasn’t even looking for the form; is it weird to say that it was looking for me? I recognized the paper immediately and after a short pause, started placing it in the “TO DO” pile. At that moment a really, really big voice in my head said:

  •  “DON'T PUT IT THERE!!". 
  • "If you put it in the TO DO pile, you won't see it again for another year!" 
  • "Don’t put off your mammogram any longer" 
  • "Keep the paper in your hand. Pick up the phone NOW. Make an appointment - - NOW!!”  
I found the phone number on the back of the form, made the call and was surprised they had an opening 2 days later on September 5th. The drive only took 5 minutes to get to the clinic; yes it is right in my neighborhood. The wait wasn’t long, and the mammogram wasn’t even that intolerable. The embarrassing part was I learned they kept records and it had been 8 years since my last, and only mammogram. (In my defense, my former primary care doctor had told me that based on my family history and "estrogen record" ...# of pregnancies, breastfeeding, birth control pill use, etc., IT WAS HIGHLY UNLIKELY THAT I WOULD EVER GET BREAST CANCER! Was I ever dumb to let that lure me into a false sense of security? Yes, I WAS DUMB! I had even watched 5 very close friends go through this disease, including my sister-in-law and cousin. I knew better!!) After a short wait, the technician told me everything looked okay so I got dressed and went home.

The "Letter" from the clinic came in the mail less than a week later. It ominously stood out from all the junk mail that makes up 90% of our mail - but I waited till after dinner to open it up. “There were abnormalities in your recent mammogram. We recommend you return for an additional, enhanced screening", it said. The first thing the next morning, I made another appointment. They had an opening on Sept 15.

At the clinic, they called me back and had me put on one of their fashionable gowns (obviously designed by men). This time, only my left breast had to get squished. It didn’t take very long, and the technician returned me to the row of small changing rooms with accordion-like doors. I could change my clothes, but I needed to wait while the radiologist looked at my films. In the room across from me, another woman was waiting. Soon I heard the technician tell her that everything looked fine and she was free to leave. When the technician came to see me, she asked me to follow her back to another waiting room. My mind started racing and I got a lump in my throat.

I waited by myself in this fairly large room for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, the radiologist and the technician came into the room looking very grim. They sat across the room from me and the radiologist said there were some suspicious spots indicating calcifications in my breast tissue. He reassured me that 90% of the time these spots were nothing to worry about, but 10% of the time it was "something". I should have a stereotactic biopsy, and he proceeded to give me more details. I must have heard the “90% good” part, because I wasn’t too concerned. I think the female technician was there in case I broke down, but I managed to remain calm. (Remember, I am still operating under the premise that I am immune to breast cancer.)

Breast Calcifications

The morning of the biopsy I felt great - wasn't nervous at all. The nurse found out otherwise - my blood pressure was sky high. Next thing I knew a guardian angel from The Breast Cancer Resource Center was introducing herself. Ray Anne was there to be my patient navigator. She explained the biopsy procedure and told me she would be in the room with me the whole time. What a blessing! I don't remember much about the biopsy, but I do remember her calming voice and the way she was able to put my mind at ease.

The next day, September 19th, the call came. "Good news/bad news", the doctor said. Cancerous cells were found, but they were all neatly contained within the duct walls in my breast. Stage "0", pre-cancerous, we caught it early (or so I thought). New terms I had never heard of came rushing at me through the phone line. "ER positive, PR positive, DCIS, Ductal Carcinoma In Situ". The good news, no need for chemotherapy, probably just a lumpectomy.
  • "So doctor", I said, "If it's pre-cancerous, can I say I have Breast Cancer?"
  • ".....yes.....", he said hesitantly. 
  • "YES!!!" I said excitedly. (I think I could hear his jaw drop.
  • Then I explained. "You see Doctor, I do the Danskin Triathlons, and this means I can start in the second wave (instead of the ninth or tenth), the one for Breast Cancer Survivors, right after the Elite athletes start, cause heaven knows I will NEVER be an elite athlete!". (It's not that I'm that competitive, the earlier you start the cooler the temperature. June in Texas can be really hot. Yeah, that's it!
In reality, the Pollyanna in me was simply trying to find something positive. I don't remember much else that happened that day. However, looking back I realize my life changed forever, that day. On that day, I had entered CANCERWORLD. Little did I know that 3 months later they would find an invasive breast tumor and I would indeed need chemotherapy...

As a way to pay it forward for the help I received from the Breast Cancer Resource Center, please help me raise much needed funds for cancer services. You can visit my donation page here:


... Part II continued here, "Two kinds of cancer???"


  1. I am waiting to read part two of your story before I fully comment but the main point that came from part one is *don't put it there, do it NOW*

  2. Thank you for sharing this Alice. I am still trying to learn a lot about breast cancer treatments and prevention in cause I need the info myself. In addition my doctor told me last summer that studies have shown that women between 45 and 65 years only need a mammogram every 2 years if no family history of breast cancer(not exactly sure of those ages. She also said that after 65 studies indicate it is not helpful continue having routine mammograms. This just seems wrong!! I can't but wonder if this is another cost cutting idea.

    1. I pray that you never need the info but it's great that you're educating yourself. I think the fine line in mammogram recommendations comes in trying to limit the radiation we are exposed to. I recently read this on a cancer forum ...

      "Following disastrous age-biased advice to 'skip' her yearly mammogram at age 86, my Mom was diagnosed with BC at 88. Had she followed the yearly schedule, her invasive tumor would have been detected a yr. earlier."

      Occasionally I hear about a possible new screening tool in the works, but so far nothing has been proven. I am grateful for mammograms, because even in its imperfectness, it is a tool to detect cancer that other cancers lack.


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