Looking at Breast Cancer in the Rear View Mirror

I’m writing this on Sept 27th, 2013 – a date that I will always remember. One year ago today, I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. I can still feel Brian holding my hand so tight after the nurse referred to me as a “newly diagnosed cancer patient”.  The kicker is that four weeks prior, I got my mammogram report stating that “all was great – come back in one year.”   How can this possibly happen???  Well, now it’s time to share my cautionary tale. Anyone who has breasts MUST read this. It won’t take long – you’ll be glad that you did.  Please do share this with everyone you know.    

Breast Density – It just might be the greatest cancer risk you’ve never heard of.

My mammogram failed to reveal two tumors

 

After learning that I had dense breast tissue a few years ago, I requested an ultrasound in addition to my routine mammogram.  I just wanted a baseline for my record, a reference point  for the future.  I felt no lumps, no pain, no tenderness, and had a perfect annual mammogram history.  I really had no concerns.  But, knowing that my mom had breast cancer, I wanted to stay ahead of things. My request was denied; but I did not give up. Luckily, my gynecologist listened to me as I insisted that I wanted a baseline ultrasound due to dense breast tissue.  With her help (and some creative thinking), I was able to get a referral for the ultrasound (expecting nothing but normal results, just like my mammo).

Thank God I did!  With ultrasound, my doctor detected a suspicious lesion and a biopsy was done.  On Sept 27, I received the dreaded news  –  the biopsy confirmed invasive stage one cancer.  But wait, there’s more… additional ultrasound & MRI revealed a SECOND tumor in the same breast.  Neither of these tumors were detected on my “perfect” mammogram.  Imagine –  TWO cancerous tumors were NOT detected on my mammogram due to dense tissue.  I was shocked!   This is the danger of having dense breast tissue – it camouflages everything.

God then blessed me with the finest surgeons and caregivers at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.  My mastectomy was done on Nov 27, 2012.  The final pathology reported two tumors – very small, stage 1, invasive & aggressive estrogen feeding cancer.  Because of my EARLY DETECTION, I lucked out big time – all lymph nodes and margin pathology came back negative and NO radiation or chemotherapy was required.  My reconstruction surgeries followed a few months later.  Every day, I thank God for my incredible husband who cared for me every moment, my absolutely amazing & caring surgeons, and the most loving and prayerful circle of family & friends.  Because of them all, one year to the day, and I am 100% fine and cancer -free.  I intend to stay that way.

According to my surgeon, had I waited until my next annual mammogram, my cancer would have progressed quickly into an advanced stage and this story would have had a very different ending.  I don’t care to imagine what a year’s wait would have meant for my survival!

I am grateful that I was able to achieve an EARLY cancer diagnosis by virtue of the ultrasound I practically begged for.  So this is why I share my story — to raise awareness of the danger of dense breast tissue.   Hopefully, more lives can be saved when later stage cancers are reduced as women understand the impact of dense breast tissue on delayed diagnosis.  Here are few eye opening facts for you (provided by www.areyoudense.org)

Six facts about dense breast tissue

  1. 40% of women, between the ages of 20 & 65 yrs old have dense breast tissue. That’s a lot!!
  2. Breast density has NOTHING to do with size. It is, by nature, your genetic tissue. And you CANNOT feel dense tissue.  It is not the same as fibrocystic breasts.
  3. Breast density is one of the strongest predictors of the failure of mammography to detect cancer.
  4. Mammography misses every other cancer in dense breasts.  40% of women are not getting fully diagnostic screenings with their mammogram.
  5. Breast density is a well-established predictor of breast cancer risk.
  6. Breast density is a greater risk factor than having two first degree relatives with breast cancer.

Sadly, the vast majority of women are unaware of the density of their breasts.

  • 95% of women do not know their breast density.  Do you know?
  • Less than one in 10 women learn about their dense breast tissue from their doctors.   ASK. ASK. ASK.

I encourage every woman to:

  • Be informed.  ASK if you have dense tissue.  This information is often not commonly shared with the patient.
  • If you do have dense tissue, INSIST on getting an ultrasound in addition to mammography (MRI would be even better). Remember,  ultrasound is only as good as the technician’s skill (not all are the same).
  • Don’t be passive; you are RESPONSIBLE for your own health.
  • Please, please, please SHARE this information with every woman you know.  It could save a life.

Learn more about this issue and how to protect yourself – go to www.areyoudense.org . 

Early detection does saves lives… it saved mine.

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