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.