Pink Edition: Living proof — early detection, treatment can save your life

garcano@idahostatesman.comOctober 2, 2013 

  • PLAYING IT SAFE

    Here are my tips for other women - common tips that bear repeating:

    • Get yearly mammograms.

    • If you find a suspicious lump, don't wait to get it checked.

    • Get a treatment plan and get it under way as soon as possible.

    • Listen to your doctors and to your own body.

When I found a lump in my breast while showering at the end of July 2012, I was freaked out. It had been, I thought, 18 months since my last mammogram. I knew I needed to get one "soon"; turned out, it had been two years.

My regular checkup, including a breast exam, that spring had not discovered anything wrong. But as soon as I felt that lump, I thought, "That's not normal."

The next day, I made an appointment for a mammogram. I had to wait a week, though I now think that if I'd said I found a lump, they would have gotten me in immediately. That week was excruciating. My best friend had died of breast cancer 12 years before. Was I going to die?

The Aug. 6 mammogram did detect a lump. They called me in for a "diagnostic" mammogram within a couple of days. On that same visit, I had a sonogram and a needle biopsy. By this time, it was clear to me and the doctors that the lump was small but cancerous. It looked in the sonogram just like those drawings of cancer cells in my high school health textbook.

Within days I saw an oncologist, who outlined the treatment options. My cancer, he said, was very treatable, because it was found early. There are no guarantees, he said, but, "The truth is, 85 percent of women survive breast cancer." I've since realized I know many more survivors than those who have died.

I had a lumpectomy on Aug. 17 last year, 11 days after that initial mammogram. I also ended up having four chemo treatments and six weeks of radiation.

As soon as I had a treatment plan, most of my anxiety and fear went away. At no time did anyone ever say, "Hmm, I wonder what we should do next." The doctors know what they're doing, thanks to results from tons of research on treatment options and outcomes.

I was lucky to have found the lump myself (I didn't do regular self-exams). I could say it was "wise" of me and the doctors to hurry things along, but that was at least partly because the anxiety was unbearable on my part.

There are still no guarantees. But I feel great, and I'm on the five-year follow-up plan, which includes regular visits with the oncologists so any problems can be detected early.

I'm confident I'm in the 85 percent.

Genie Arcano is a copy editor at the Statesman.

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