Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lucky


I’m the lucky one.

On Feb. 15 I was informed that I have Ductal Carcinoma in situ (DCIS). In short form, this is an incredibly curable, non-scary form of breast cancer. Some have even said it’s not even cancer. Technically, it’s not. Yet. Which is one reason I’m “lucky.”

I’m also lucky it was found on a mammogram.

In mid-December of 2011, I went in for my first mammogram ever, at the age of 42. I’d put it off for two years.

Hell, I was going through a divorce and had been laid off from my job – things much more important than a routine scan – or so I thought at the time. And there was no traditional breast cancer history in my family (looking at my mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers) so really a mammogram wasn’t too terribly urgent. Following the “unpleasantness,” I was told that if I hadn’t heard anything within 2 weeks it meant everything was fine.

In mid January I went to my (incompetent) physician because I had strep throat. While prescribing me an antibiotic, he “reminded” me that I needed to repeat my mammogram because the radiologist had concerns. I was worried but – at the time – the burning in my throat was of primary concern, so I agreed to schedule a new appointment and went home. Two days later, I found a letter in my mailbox informing me that my mammogram was irregular and needed to be repeated.  I must point out that this was now 28 days after the original mammogram. The letter was dated Dec. 22 and mailed BULK on Jan., 15. I received it Jan. 17.

Major paperwork fail. Still, I’m the lucky one.

I went back for another mammogram and ultrasound. And following that, I was asked to come back for a biopsy of some calcification – basically barely-visible white spots on one side of one breast – which wasn’t sitting right with the radiologist. There was a 20 percent chance it was cancerous, I was told.

I’m lucky. I hit the jackpot.

Why? I’m hearing that DCIS is incredibly hard to spot on a mammogram. In fact, I’ve had friends tell me their friends’/sisters’ mothers’ breast cancer was viewable on mammograms as DCIS years before it was diagnosed, but nobody saw it. Yes, I’ve told the radiologist I’ll birth his children, even though I consider my baby-store to be closed.

I’m lucky because I have options. This cancer was caught incredibly early. Next week I will have this cancer removed from my body – along with another bit whose type and status is yet to be determined. Everything will be tested and evaluated and I can make decisions from there. No, it’s not triple-negative and my lymph nodes appear to be healthy. So the prognosis is exceptionally good.  But mysteries remain, and physicians are perplexed that I’m the third (young) cousin in my family to develop breast cancer despite no “traditional” risk factors.

I’m lucky. So far. And you can be, too.

I’m not writing this because I want to be a martyr. Or because I want to compare myself to other cancer-fighting warriors I know or have known who have fought and won or lost the battle. I’m writing this because I know the only reason I have options is because I got a mammogram. And because I happened upon a doctor who is exceptionally good at his job and spotted what many miss daily. I’m lucky because this all happened while my employer was in open enrollment so I was able to switch from an HMO to a PPO to get better care. And I’m lucky because I have a strong group of supporters in my friends and co-workers who keep reminding me that they pity the fool who dare cross me…because they know I’ll kick its ass.

I will kick cancer’s ass. I will go as aggressive and (to some of you) crazy to make sure that I get to watch my son’s kids graduate from high school – or even college. Nothing else matters to me. And everyone who knows me well knows this.

But this post isn’t about my survival because – Damn it! - That’s a given.

This is about YOUR survival.

I’m the lucky one. I got a mammogram and in my first one I hit the cancer jackpot. If my writing this results in just one of you getting a mammogram - or encouraging your loved one to do so – I’ve done my job.

Please do it. And tell me if you did.

Note: I highly recommend my radiologist: Dr. Ben-David at Encino Breast Care Center (818-784-8799). Do it. 

31 comments:

  1. Lucky indeed! And BIG BIG BIG HUGS to you! So, where do you go from here? Is it being removed? Do you have to do chemo? etc?

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    1. At this point it's surgery to remove, radiation and some drug treatments. Will know more next week!

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  2. Jen, I am getting my first one done (age 35) this month. We have a looong history of breast cancer on both sides of my family, both young and old women. I requested it from my physician, and he didn't hesitate - although he has no concerns based on my annual exam. I'm hoping my baseline will be just that, but one never knows!
    Thanks for writing this post, and fight the good fight, girl!

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    1. Glad you're getting your mammogram, Ker. ((Hugs))

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  3. Jennifer, Thanks for writing this post and reminding us all of the importance to get a mammogram. I got my first one done a couple years as well and went thru the whole cancer scare. Thankfully it was not cancer, but every time I get a check up I have to take a pause as I wait for the results. I'll be sending positive thoughts & prayers your way for a full and speedy recover with your surgery.

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    1. Thanks so much, Eva. The fear is the worst, huh?

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  4. YES!! Mammograms are so very important - even if there isn't a family history of breast cancer. I was dx'd with infiltrating ductal carcinoma (found outside the milk duct) and ductal carcinoma in situ (inside the milk duct) back in 2008. Lymph nodes to boot too. Surgery, Chemo, Radiation - the trifecta. Your prognosis sounds great. You are in for a rough road with whatever treatment you choose but trust me it's all very manageable with the right meds, exercise, and support.
    If you have any questions please shoot me and email. I'm an open book!

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    1. Thanks, Wendy - I'd love to talk if you're up to it. How do I reach you? And thank you. I'm a bit overwhelmed - both by the diagnosis and the support I'm getting!

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  5. Jen, I'm soooooo glad to hear that this is so treatable and that you're on the path to do that. I urge everyone to get screened every year. Both my Mother and Grandmother died of Breast Cancer - but it can be cured if found early enough. So don't wait, people!

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    1. It's crazy. Even my doctors had been saying - you're so low risk. Don't worry too much about that. BAH! Thanks for reading :)

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  6. You are so right - and early detection can often prevent far worse outcomes. Glad you caught it and will beat it's ass!

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  7. Just saw this! If you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask! Thanks so much for posting this. I, too, am 42 and have put the mammogram off. I need to do it now, I've run out of excuses. Big hugs!!

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  8. Wow Jen. I just went through a similar, though inconclusive experience with an irregular mammo. At my annual, my doc found a lump she didn't like and convinced me to book a next day mammo. Where they saw "something". Note: it's been a month and I still haven't received the letter about that. I've received nothing. For two weeks I assumed that no news is good news but because I am neurotic, and had no letter, I called and called and called until I got a surprised call back from my gyn, that I had not received anything instructing me to go back asap for a second scan and ultrasound because indeed they had imaged something.

    I was scheduled for the ultrasound the very next day.

    The ultrasound was inconclusive. Whatever it was, they couldn't see it anymore. So I have to go back in a few months and have another looksee. Who knows, the tech told me. It might have been a cyst. They might have "pressed it out". Which I think is a nice way of saying it popped under the pressure of the SUV that it felt like they backed up over my boob. Still they want me back in three months.

    The worst part for me, surprisingly, was not worrying about fighting whatever it was. It was worrying that I haven't had a mammo in over 5 years now. So whatever it was had five years to flourish and grow. We're lucky to live in a time where it's easy to screen and so many things are treatable. IF you catch them. The whole time I was worried I was also pissed off at myself. Pissed off for waiting. For thinking next month when we have better insurance, or when the kids don't need new clothes, or it's not a holiday or whatever was too pressing.

    I won't wait again. Hugs to you. I know you are tough, and strong and that you'll kick this. I'm glad that you are sharing and have the support of so many friends. Count me in.

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    1. I had many of those feelings, too. I will do all I can now to get women to check early and often. Join me? And thanks for sharing your story.

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  9. OMG Jennifer. What news. I just had my first mammogram this year. It was super scary, but I'm glad that I did. Big, big hugs to you I wish I was there to give it to you in person. Good luck with the next few days, I know you will keep us posted. xoxox

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  10. You are my second friend in the past couple of months to go through this. And yes I'm over due for my mammogram AND pap. I should have had my annual in Oct. I know better than to postpone these things and I did it anyway. Thanks for the reminder. I'll call for the appt tomorrow. Blessings and love for a quick, FULL recovery and NO FURTHER OCCURRENCE. Rock on sister.

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    1. Thanks, Beth. All of it. We must take care of ourselves and our sisters :)

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  11. so sorry you have to go through this. sending much love and strength my dear!!

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  12. I just saw your tweet, and please count me as one of your 5. I'm 45 and I keep not scheduling. And not scheduling. I saw your tweet, composed my tweet, and then called my doctor's office. And then called the screening place and scheduled an appointment. And then I hit "send" on my tweet.

    Thank you so much for the encouragement to do this, and for writing your story. My (98-year-old) grandmother had a radical mastectomy on both sides so long ago, we can't actually remember when she had it. Which is rather amazing, but also puts me in the "susceptible" camp.

    Anyway, my appointment is on Thursday at 12:30. I hope your surgery goes well and that is the end of your cancer story, friend. I should probably blog about this too ...

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    1. Yes, you should blog about it. Definitely Thank you for letting me know. I think you were joined by at least 5 more. I need to go back and count. I think we need to all remember to remind our friends, sisters, mothers and any random stranger we meet. I'm SO. VERY. LUCKY>

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    2. Oh! I'm so glad to know there were others! That makes me really, really happy. Thanks for encouraging us. Really.

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  13. I'm sorry to learn that you have cancer and that you have to go through all this... We're going through it too with my sister although her process was much faster. She's Kaiser and they have a walk-in mammogram center -- it's awesome. She doesn't have the cancer gene but either way I'm still getting checked later this month. Thank you for this post! And I wish you the best and greater luck!!

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    1. Thank you. The place where I had my surgery would have gotten it all done had I gone there initially. That's where I'll be monitored from now on. Glad things are going well with your sister. Wish her well for me, and take care of yourself.

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  14. Hello sweet lady -- my thoughts go with you today that all will be removed and all will be well. Thank you for sharing your story. I too think I'm bulletproof since there's no history of cancer in our family, but I get my mammogram every year. This last time it came back clean, but my obgyn felt a lump. Off the the breast specialist who ultrasounded it to discover a cyst which h suctioned instantly. Problem solved. But I have to keep on it diligently. Kisses to you.

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    1. Kisses back. thanks for sharing your story :)

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  15. Wow. I remember us talking at BlogHer '09 and I was still nursing my absent baby. In that conversation we talked of being the same age and I recall you saying you needed to get a mammogram being 40. I was impressed that you were on top if it while so many people wouldn't be. What is my conclusion here? Exactly what you already said. So happy to hear the good news.

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  16. You are a survivor, girl! Your determination and courage has inspired me to ask more questions of my doctor after my mammogram. I think at times, we become so overwhelmed with the information, that we forget to ask the important questions. It's our bodies and we should ask away.

    Hugs and Mocha,
    Stesha

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