Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Squeeze a Boob, Save a Life

I'm doing another monthly awareness blog today. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and well... we females have breasts. If you read any of the spicier romances, the hero usually notices the heroine has breasts, and let's just say he lets his fingers do the walking. ;-)

But lest anyone think all we talk about here is playing with boobs, let me assure you I have a very special message today from a very special friend of the Playground, our own PC's CP, Pam.

I have no qualms telling anyone anything they need/would like to know about my cancer. I feel like it's one of my missions--to let others know how important early detection is.

My maternal grandmother and my mother both had breast cancer, so I've always been high-risk and pro-active with regular mammograms and check-ups. I had several scares over the years: a benign tumor when I was 23 and several biopsies resulting from suspicious calcium deposits.

In 2004, a mammogram of my right breast showed such deposits which a biopsy confirmed was LCIS (lobular carcinoma in situ)--no longer considered cancer (despite the scaryname :-) ) I had a lumpectomy and all was fine. LCIS does not become cancer, but it can be an indicator again of "high risk." Then in May 2007, another suspicious mammogram--this time in my left breast. A biopsy revealed DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). This type is cancer, but "in situ" means that we caught it at the very earliest stage and it hadn't invaded anything around it--stage 0. However, there were several spots of it.

Another lumpectomy was possible, but it would have taken one-third of my breast plus I would have had to have 35 rounds of radiation. I did plenty of reading on the Internet--enough to know that radiated skin doesn't reconstruct well because it changes the texture, toughening it. If I wanted to go with reconstruction, a mastectomy was my best option. I was 52, and I knew I didn't want to go the rest of my life worried about recurrence. It already worried me when I went to 6 month mammograms from yearly ones.

Because of my fear, my high risk, and the numerous scares I'd already had, I opted not only for the mastectomy, but for a bi-lateral with reconstruction. My decision turned out to be a blessing because a post-op report confirmed DCIS in all four quadrants of my right breast also. It was just too small to be picked up yet on a mammogram!

Both doctors were present for the surgery. The breast surgeon removed my breasts and the plastic surgeon implanted saline tissue expanders (balloon-like sacs that I would go every two weeks to have saline injected into). They stretched my skin slowly until I was back to my normal size (34C). A second surgery (in December 2007) replaced the saline with silicon implants. A third surgery (in April 2008) reconstructed nipples and tattooed areolas. :-) I wear my regular bras and even have cleavage with the right bras!

Yes, I have scars that cut across the middle of my breasts, so I have to be careful not to go with necklines that are too low. The worst part is the lack of sensation in my breasts. The surgeries cut the nerves and they haven't regenerated (though some do), so I don't have any feeling in the nipple area. The constructed nipples tend to flatten after a time, and implants have to be replaced about every ten years.

All-in-all, I feel fantastic. I don't refer to myself as a "survivor" because that implies to me a person who has faced death, and I never felt that way. I wasn't brave; I was terrified. :-) But I do feel blessed!

Please feel free to ask me anything you want about it. Lance Armstrong says: "Knowledge is power, unity is strength, and attitude is everything." Amen to that!

Here's where you can learn about Breast Self Examination . Every one of you ladies should be doing BSE monthly. If you can’t remember, mark it on your calendar or pick a date that’s regular – like the first day of your period or the first day of the month. Or you can get set up an email to remind you. That's what I do.

As for mammograms, different organizations and physicians have different recommendations for when and how often, but most recommend a baseline mammogram at age 40 and then repeat mammography at regular intervals for the rest of your life. Ask your physician and check with your health insurance provider to see what they recommend and cover.

A mammogram is awkward and a bit embarrassing, and depending on the sensitivity of your breast tissue, it might even be uncomfortable. But don’t let the awkwardness, embarrassment or possibility of a little discomfort keep you from having this important test. Breast cancer is very curable when caught early, and a mammogram is quite often the way that such cancers are caught early enough for successful intervention.

You can learn about breast cancer, BSE, risk factors and prevention, and a whole lot more at the Susan G. Koman Breast Cancer website.

And you can visit this site and click to help fund mammograms for women who can't otherwise afford the test.

Have you performed BSE lately? If you’re old enough, have you had your mammogram? Are your mothers, sisters, best friends checking themselves and having a mammogram? If not, I'm giving you a nudge and you can nudge them. And let's send a great big huge Playground thank you to Pam for sharing her experience so openly with us today.


Angel said...

Awesome reminder, PM and Pam! My grandmother died of breast cancer, so my mother has always emphasized careful observation. She practices what she preaches, getting regular mammograms even though she's had no insurance for a few years.

Congratulations, Pam, on your brave choices! PC has kept us regularly updated and we were rooting for you all the way!


Problem Child said...

See folks, when I talk about my fabu CP, it goes far beyond my WIP.

I'm not sure if "proud" is the right word for what I feel or not, but Pam made a tough decision and never looked back. Not once has she complained, and she's had an amazingly positive attitude the entire time. I love her and I'm all misty-eyed this morning.

And if you're not clicking on the fund free mammograms site daily, add that to your routine so all women can get this important test.

And you can find pictures of the beautiful Pam and her perky breasts on my website ( under photos.

Smarty Pants said...

Pam is fabu and I was glad to cheer and toast to the wonders of nipple reconstruction! :)

My mom had a spot on her last mammagram, but it turned out to be a fatty nodule from her reduction surgery. You couldn't feel it from a self exam, so if I had been something serious, she wouldn't have found it until it was too late to do much good.

You can never be too careful. Save the tatas! :)

Kathy said...

Great blog, PM and thanks Pam for sharing your story. I'm in awe of you!

My aunt had her left breast removed after finding out she had the earliest stage of a rare form of cancer. Because of that, I'm supposed to have frequent exams. I'm overdue for my check-up but I'll have you know I've scheduled an apointment. Yay!

My mom was told last week that the mammogram of her left breast looks highly suspicious. She's seeing a specialist tomorrow. Please keep her in your prayers.

PC's CP said...

I read once that one of the "perks" of cancer is the love and compassion you get from other people. My precious CP and the Playfriends are perfect examples of that. They have supported me throughout the whole ordeal.

Something I should have mentioned is that reconstruction is covered by insurance. Too many women were choosing not to have mastectomies, and their lives were threatened by that decision. Now, it's a law that insurance must pay for reconstruction, so women don't have to choose between their breasts and their lives.

Self-exam would not have caught my cancer until it was much further along, so don't let self-exams take the place of mammograms. But the tumor in my 20's I caught through self-exam, so it's important to do.

Kathy, your mom's in my prayers.

Pc's CP

Barbara Vey said...

Pam, thanks for the reminder we never can get too often.

Instigator said...

Pam, thank you for sharing your story with us today! It's so important.

You know, I'm fairly young and I'll admit that I've never really done a self exam. It was always something I didn't have to worry about because I wasn't at that 'age'. I figured my doctor checked once a year, wasn't that enough for now? I'm going to be doing it tonight.


Anonymous said...

Pam, thanks for sharing your story and it's great to hear that you are doing well. I don't do BSE as I should, baddd me. However, I do get my yearly exam, coming up October 27th, and even when I was unemployed, I made sure to put money back for my yearly visit - too important not to. Thanks for the reminder.

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Pam, you are an amazing and inspiring woman. I'm so happy you shared this story with everyone, and I'm just as amazed as I was when you shared it with me in SF.

I have no family history, and I'm probably overdue for the M, and I'm not a regular BSE person. Bad, I know. I do BSE, but probably not as often as I should. (And Instigator, it's important that you KNOW how your breasts feel so that if there is a difference, you will notice that too -- I think that's the true value of BSE and not finding lumps.)

I have had one M, and it was fine. I had it at 37, so the doctor told me to come back at 40 and the radiologist said 5 years. Or the other way around, LOL, so I'm either overdue or I have a year to go.

Kathy, hope your mother is fine. Mine had a deposit, they did a lumpectomy, and all was fine. She just went for the 6 month follow up on Monday and it was normal.

Crystal Lee said...

Pam, thank you for sharing your story with us. Were I in your shoes, I would make the same choice. It sucks to live in fear.

I had my last mammogram Sept. 3 and all is well. I always feel like I've dodged the bullet again when I get that little notice in the mail telling me the test showed nothing significant. I had a little scare several years ago and had to go back for an ultrasound. Turned out to be fatty/fibroid tumors that are normal after 40. Whew!

Playground Monitor said...

I've had two of those little scares where instead of the pink postcard that says "Everything's fine. See you next year!" you get a call asking you to come in for an ultrasound. In both cases, it was very tiny fluid-filled cysts that required no further action. They're too small to feel, so only mammography catches them.

One thing I forgot -- you can always get your husband to do your BSE. I don't think he'd mind. ::grin::

Crystal Lee said...

Yeah, I must confess to leaving my BSE to the caring touch of my Beloved on occasion. And I meant to say cysts instead of tumors. Anytime I have done the BSE, I haven't felt those little cysts, so I make sure to do the mammogram every year.

Sherry Werth said...

Thanks Pam for sharing your story. We can never be reminded too often to take care of our health. I have yearly visits but I too slack on the BSE. Most of my problems have been on the other end of the 'spectrum'.
A family friend had reconstructive surgery last year and is so glad she did. She'd doing great and looks wonderful.

Kathy, I will put your mom in my prayers.

PM's Mother said...

I just thought I would share this with all of you.

The Mammogram
By Julia Napier©

For years and years they told me,
Be careful of your breasts.
Don't ever squeeze or bruise them.
And give them monthly tests.

So I heeded all their warnings,
And protected them by law.
Guarded them very carefully,
And I always wore my bra.

After 30 years of astute care,
My gyno, Dr. Pruitt,
Said I should get a Mammogram.
"O.K." I said, 'let's do it."

"Stand up here real close" she said,
(She got my boob in line),
"And tell me when it hurts," she said,
"Ah yes! Right there, that's fine."

She stepped upon a pedal,
I could not believe my eyes!
A plastic plate came slamming down,
My hooter's in a vise!

My skin was stretched and mangled,
From underneath my chin.
My poor boob was being squashed,
To Swedish Pancake thin.

Excruciating pain I felt,
Within it's vise-like grip.
A prisoner in this vicious thing,
My poor defenseless tit!

"Take a deep breath" she said to me,
Who does she think she's kidding?!?
My chest is mashed in her machine,
And woozy I am getting.

"There, that's good," I heard her say,
(The room was slowly swaying.)
"Now, let's have a go at the other one."
Have mercy, I was praying.

It squeezed me from both up and down,
It squeezed me from both sides.
I'll bet SHE'S never had this done,
To HER tender little hide.

Next time that they make me do this,
I will request a blindfold.
I have no wish to see again,
My knockers getting steam rolled.

If I had no problem when I came in,
I surely have one now.
If there had been a cyst in there,
It would have gone "ker-pow!"

This machine was created by a man,
Of this, I have no doubt.
I'd like to stick his balls in there,
And see how THEY come out!

PC's CP said...

PM's Mom,
The poem is priceless! Thanks for the laugh:-)

And I'm glad to see how many of you are taking good care of yourself. Keep it up!


Playground Monitor said...

Do y'all know why they have to flatten your breasts to x-ray them? I heard a great analogy once.

Imagine you are baking raisin bread and have the dough rolled into a ball on the counter in front of you. Can you see all the raisins in the dough? Nope, because many are deep inside that ball of dough. But if you roll the dough out flat, the raisins will show up.

And that's why they have to mash you from top to bottom and side to side -- to see all the raisins.

Linda Wisdom said...

This is so true!

I have a close friend who lost her mother and all her aunts to breast cancer. She and her sister know they're totally at risk and I know they're considering the surgery as a just in case.

And my GYN has a fit if I don't have my mammogram before I go in. She can be very scary but it's true, it's necessary.


gjm said...

I had a call last week about an abnormal mammagram two months ago. I thought all was ok, since I had not heard from them. I went to a new clinic, it was low cost because I was laid off my job. The old clinic always sent me a letter in the mail within a few weeks. I thought that was nice of them, and did not know it was routine. The new place did send one, so after a month I just assumed all was well. How wrong I was. I got the call the day before New Years, and that ruined the holiday. I did not eat or sleep hardly for three days. I also started smoking again, which I was mad at myself for, but I was a wreak. I am having more evaluation done as soon as they say to, but I am wondering if having a mammagram is really worth it. I know I will not have my breast removed unless I really must. I would rather die with my boobs on if it comes to that. I always thought with the hype about mammagrams that it saved a women from losing her breasts. NOT! My sister had a routine mammagram right before mine, and there was cancer, now she had her breasts removed last week, and still has to have radiation. Why? Is a mammagram just a way for the medical community to make money. Women still die even with all the hype on mammagrams. I think many women have a false sense of security after having a mammagram and then are really let done, when they discover it did not make a difference in the outcome. I do not accept the slang sqeeze a boob save a life, it does not always happen that way. I also think women joke to much and give too little credit to the importance of breasts. I believe breasts are beautiful, necessary and are vital to our sense of well being and womanhood. Reconstructed breasts are not any where close to being real, no feeling in them and you will never mistake them for the real thing. A female without breasts is like being a man without a penis. I know many women will disagree with me and that is what is important, because it keeps all of us from becoming complacent.