How Many More Breast Cancers Will Be Missed By Mammogram Alone?
I will never forget the day I stepped foot into my doctor's office. He sat me down, looked me straight in the eyes and said, "Yep, you have breast cancer."
I glanced at my mom who gasped and my daughter who grabbed my hand. We were all in shock. To be real honest, I'm still kinda in shock and it's been a year since my diagnosis.
You see, I never smoked, I ate pretty healthy, very, very seldom did I drink. And even then it was just a glass of wine or champagne to celebrate someone's birthday or whatever. I moderately exercised.
I always kept a positive attitude in life. How could this be???? I'm so confused. The main reason I went to the gynecologist was to find out if I had any sexually transmitted diseases.
I found out my husband was having an affair at his workplace. And I believe she wasn't the only one. But thank God I didn't have anything in that department, but I do have breast cancer.
Two years prior I had my regular mammogram screening.
It showed nothing.
The only thing it did mention was dense breast tissue. My doctor even thoroughly felt for lumps and bumps. I had none. I figured I must be ok. After all, anything serious it would show up on the mammogram, right???
Two years fast forward after the devastating news about my husband's philandering, I figure it's time to see my ob gyn. Turns out he just retired so they have a new doctor in his place. A few weeks before I go, I look in the mirror feeling ugly because obviously my husband doesn't find this old body very attractive anymore, we've been married 25 years. And I notice what looks like cellulite on the side of my left breast. "That's weird", I thought. I didn't feel any lumps or bumps so I figured maybe it's just old age. Everything is starting to sag anyway!
I went and googled breast cancer symptoms and mammograms. It mentioned sometimes breast cancer can hide in dense breast tissue. The lightbulb went off in my head. Even though I received the notice two years ago that I had dense breasts, I had no idea what that meant. Could it be breast cancer? I immediately called my friend who's mom had breast cancer. She said her mom found her cancer through thermography. I had never heard of it. It's a process where they use an infrared light and find hot spots where cancer could be growing. It's non invasive and is very accurate. I decide to go get one. After all, if the mammogram didn't show anything, maybe this thing will.
After I had the thermal imaging done, about a week later the lady from the center called me on the phone. She sounded panic stricken. "You need to see your doctor ASAP!! I will send you your results but there is definitely something suspicious going on with your breasts. The left one in particular."
I immediately got on the phone and made an appointment to see my "new" doctor. I brought the thermography report with me. I told him about the cellulite on my left breast and how the thermography report showed highly suspicious areas.
He told me to get another mammogram. I was in shock! Why on earth would I do another mammogram if it never showed anything before?! Surely it won't show anything now. He told me my thermography report was bogus, not "scientific". He wouldn't even look at it.
He made me feel really dumb.
So, reluctantly I did another mammogram. I told the technician my story. I showed her the thermography report and the left side of my breast. She was concerned and ordered the ultrasound.
I had the ultrasound done and bing, bang, boom, there they were!
A cluster of tumors in the left breast with suspicious findings on the right. I then had to get the biopsies. I was scared to death. I brought my mom and daughter with me that day. Bless their hearts, they must have been in the waiting area almost 6 hours. I remember the nurse giving me Xanax because I was so scared. They turned on some "calming" music but I had them turn it off because it sounded like a fricking funeral parlor!
I wanted something upbeat like jazz or something to listen to during the biopsies. They didn't have that so silence would have to do. During the procedure the doctor looked very concerned for me. Now I was really scared.
A few weeks later I see my doctor who made fun of my thermography report. My mom and daughter are at my sides and that's when he said, "Yep, it's breast cancer". Turns out to be lobular invasive, estrogen receptive."
I wanted to kill him! I was angry he didn't believe my report. That it was nonsense! I told him if you have dense breast tissue why can't it be an automatic ultrasound??? The mammogram in my opinion is a waste of time. How many cancers get missed because the mammogram never showed it???
After my diagnosis, I met up with the surgical oncologist. Turns out my tumors are so large she wanted to try and shrink them before surgery.
I did 4 rounds of chemo, lost all my hair, but it really didn't do much to shrink the tumors. I then was put on an anti-estrogen medication because I was on the "cusp" of menopause. And since my tumors were estrogen receptive, it made sense. I also had a large fibroid down in my uterus so a total hysterectomy was ordered to help remove any other estrogen fueling components. After the hysterectomy the pathological report came in and it reported breast cancer cells in the uterine muscle.
That means the cancer has already begun to travel throughout my body.
I am currently on Arimidex and the doctor says it's time to start thinking of the double mastectomy. The tumors are probably operable now.
They don't know how much more life expectancy I will have with the surgery.
They said the Arimidex will stop working eventually.
I am technically a stage 4 since they found the breast cancer cells in another part of my body. I'm now at a road block. How much difference will a double mastectomy make if I'm already technically stage 4?? I pray to God for guidance and wisdom in making the right decision.
The thing I would like to address is this; If you have dense breast tissue, patients should not only be sent a piece of paper they should also be educated what that means. Also, why not follow up with an ultrasound???
How many lives could be saved if an ultrasound was mandatory after finding one has dense breast tissue? Mine probably could have been found early enough to where I could expect to live a much longer life. Now I don't know how long I have. But I do try and share my story with other women of my experience and how mammograms are not 100% accurate.
I live each day "one day at a time" and try not to get too angry or sad, but it's hard. It's hard not knowing my future and it's upsetting to think this cancer could have been slowly growing over the years and it was never noticed.
Whatever time I have left, I make the most of it. I now enjoy spending time with my college aged kids. My mom and I go to lunch at least once a week. I did a couple of musicals just to prove to myself, I'm not completely washed up yet. I've been more involved in breast cancer support groups especially the one at my church.
I've met some wonderful new friends through this crazy journey. Unfortunately, a few have died from this dreadful disease. I give my life to God and told Him when He's done using me for His glory then I guess it will be my time to leave this earthly home. Until then, I keep my eyes on the here now. Enjoying each day with gratitude.
Paula Perkins, 52 years old