Three weeks before my thirtieth birthday, I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Unlike most stories I had heard, I felt no lumps and had no symptoms. I was enrolled in a research study at the NIH (National Institute for Health) in conjunction with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for families with higher than normal incidence of breast and ovarian cancer (those families with known BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutations). When asked if I was nervous participating in the study I would respond, “If something is found, I’d consider myself a lucky person; it’ll be caught early, so I’ll have a higher survival rate than others. I’m just being proactive. I have nothing to worry about. I’m young and healthy.”
On May 23, 2002, one day after my thirtieth birthday, I had a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction and was awaiting the results on the lymph node biopsy and tumor size.
I have always been an energetic, optimistic, positive person, so death nor mortality entered my mind. From the moment I was officially diagnosed on Tuesday, May 7, 2002, I was determined to educate myself, identify the options and run full speed ahead. My task was to become cancer-free and resume a normal life.
I was diagnosed with invasive cancer, as well as DCIS, in my right breast only. I was aggressive with my surgical decision; I had both breasts removed. The surgeons got clear margins, so no radiation was required. No chemo was recommended due to multiple diagnostic factors: the invasive tumor was approximately 2mm indicating the cancer was detected at an early stage; my lymph nodes were clear; as well as a few others factors I cannot recall. Early detection and genetic testing had been my friend.
My proactive involvement in that study which provided earlier than normal screenings for breast cancer, left me blessed in so many ways. I “kept” my summer, my sanity and most of all, my life. I saved the insurance company hundreds of thousands of dollars since chemo and radiation were not required. I represent the need for continuing education and research, and I remain the poster child of good luck. I am back and perky as ever! (dated June 2002)
UPDATE: The above content was an excerpt from my journal written 3 weeks after my surgery. It has been 14 years and I remain as “perky” as ever. I have 2 young children and a crazy, wonderful husband.
If you remember just one thing from this article, please remember to be proactive with your health. Know your family history, assess your risk. If you want to learn more about your personal risk, check out the Assess Your Risk tool by BrightPink.