Early Detection Saves Lives. Like Mine.

I needed equally aggressive treatment for this 3cm, triple negative tumor: immediate neoadjuvant chemotherapy (16 grueling rounds), a double mastectomy and 34 rounds of radiation. “The kitchen sink,” my oncologist called it.

I never paid much attention to October being Breast Cancer Awareness month. That is, until my own surprise breast cancer diagnosis occurred at the tender age of 32 in March of 2016. At the time of my diagnosis, I had only been married 6 months and was 8 weeks away from graduating with my Master’s Degree. So no, the timing of a cancer diagnosis is never convenient and there is no “good kind” of cancer. 

One of the most frequently asked questions I’m asked is “How did you discover your cancer?” I wish I could respond with something like, “Through diligent monthly self-exams, or course!” That would not be accurate. 

You see, at the time I was diagnosed, I had not done regular self-breast exams since, well…. ever. Despite an intense family history of both breast and ovarian cancer, I can’t say I was overly concerned with my own genetic risk of diagnosis, due to my young age. I figured, per usual medical advice, I’d start breast screenings at age 40. 

So, when I randomly felt a palpable, firm lump in my right breast, I sensed this was going to be a problem. I rushed in to see a doctor I had never met before, Dr. Jarin Leavitt with Syracuse Tanner Clinic, who immediately referred me to a general surgeon for further consultation, a mammogram and a needle biopsy. 

My husband was always by my side. Our initial fear of a “worst case scenario,” was confirmed roughly a week later. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Staging was sketchy in the beginning, but we were loosely told I was Stage 2B. No one wants to learn they have cancer (of any kind), but to also hear that your specific tumor type is a “rare, extremely fast growing and aggressive type,” meant I needed equally aggressive treatment for this 3cm, triple negative tumor. Which for me meant immediate neoadjuvant chemotherapy (16 grueling rounds), a double mastectomy and 34 rounds of radiation. “The kitchen sink,” my oncologist called it.

Initially, my cancer diagnosis was a “worst case scenario,” however, we soon learned because of early detection, proper diagnoses, and expert aggressive medical intervention by the “A-Team” of Tanner Clinic, I was lucky to upgrade to “best case scenario.”

I know there are many types of cancer, many treatments, and many outcomes, so if I could share one piece of advice with others, without resorting to fear mongering, it would be to eliminate the mentality that cancer can’t, or won’t happen to you. This is a dangerous mind game to play with the silent killer breast cancer, which so often has few, if any symptoms. If I’ve learned anything throughout this journey, it’s an observation that cancer is an insidious equal opportunity disease. It does not discriminate. It knows no age restriction, family history of disease predisposition, race, economic status, or educational prowess. Awareness and early detection is literally the foundation needed in our war against cancer. Take time this October to defend yourself. Get to know your risk factors such as age, family history and genetic backgrounds better. Defend on all fronts. Adhere to regular breast health screenings and MONTHLY self-breast exams. Speak to your health care provider about breast health and, for your own health, do not procrastinate seeking medical consultation or sharing concerns with your medical provider. No one knows your body like you do. Advocate for its wellness like it’s the only one you’ve got! 

6 tips to help someone diagnosed with breast cancer

  1. Listen and offer specific services based on needs instead of saying “call me if you need me.” 
  2. Offer to take kids where they need to go for their activities. Life goes on with or without breast cancer.
  3. Cancer doesn’t ask age or gender; it can affect anyone. Telling someone why they shouldn’t have breast cancer doesn’t help and can leave them feeling more isolated.
  4. The best way to help is to look for ways to support now instead of telling them what they should’ve done to prevent it.
  5. Each case of breast cancer can be different; some cases are more aggressive than others so don’t assume her experience will be similar to other cases you are familiar with.
  6. A text message, a card in the mail expressing your good thoughts and best wishes will likely be appreciated even if you aren’t especially close to the person.

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