In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month in October, we reached out to our patients and employees for stories of how this disease touched their lives. A patient of ours so graciously shared with us her story of how she handled her heart breaking breast cancer diagnosis, and explains how her early diagnosis saved her life. Yearly mammograms in women over 40 are highly recommended to help in early detection of this disease. Qualifying uninsured residents of Niagara County may be eligible for free breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screenings. Click here for more details and schedule the appointment that may save your life.
“The thought of skipping my mammogram crossed my mind for a moment but I knew that it wasn’t a wise thing to do. My mother had developed breast cancer at the age of 81 and I had done everything that I could to protect myself. After all, I breast fed four children, kept my weight under control, exercised a few times a week, ate organic food, and stayed away from harmful chemicals (I’m a persistent asthmatic with some chemical sensitivity.) The risk factor that concerned me that most was my late onset menopause at age 60. I had some fibrocystic areas in my breasts, watched them for changes and had my mammograms faithfully every year. The new guidelines are being questioned and I thought for a moment, maybe I could go every other year. I take good care of myself, why not? I am a retired R.N. and I understand the pro’s and cons of it all, but choose to error on the side of caution. My reminder slip arrived from Mt.St. Mary’s hospital, I called to schedule my mammogram and they had an opening for the next day. I had an edgy feeling that morning, no symptoms, no lumps that were unusual – no reason at all to feel ill at ease – yet I did. After the mammogram was done and I was waiting, that feeling persisted. I was told “Dr. see’s something in your left breast.” More pictures were taken. Breathe, stay calm I told myself. The Dr. came in to explain that it was a small lesion with changes that were clearly abnormal, best to be safe and get a biopsy at Windsong. That biopsy was positive, I had breast cancer, stage 0 in situ, which basically means early stage breast cancer confined inside the ducts. I was referred to a breast surgeon. Enter Dr. R, a wonderful surgeon, specializing in breast cancer. He explained my options lumpectomy vs. mastectomy and suggested in my case that a lumpectomy with radiation would probably be a good option for such a tiny lesion. I had again an uneasy feeling for some reason. the surgery was done, the report came back with a close margin. How could this be? Before surgery, I had told Dr. R, “Go Big or Go Home” and he had. I wanted a more aggressive surgical approach for a lot of reasons, but as a chemically sensitive asthmatic with horrible allergies I know that chemo would probably not be an option for me with my medical history. Dr. R called again and said, “I saved room on the O.R. schedule just in case, do you want to go back – you are in a gray area here with this margin.” Did I want to go back – NO!, but I had a great feeling that I needed to. Surgery was scheduled within the week. Again, I told him “Go Big – I want a safe wide margin.” He went all the way to my chest wall. I was referred to a Radiation Oncologist and less than a week later was in his office asking for the pathology report from the second lumpectomy. I was stunned to find out that there was another tumor and that I had a “shot gun blast” of small tumor cells in the small ductal areas of my breast, again with the same small margin. I listened to what the Radiation Oncologist said, but now my mind was made up to have the mastectomy. My husband is a surgeon, we talked long and hard about the choices a head of us. He looked at me and said, you are at higher risk for developing it in the other breast (something that I was told many times by now.) Maybe we should opt for a double mastectomy and we won’t have to worry about developing it on the other side. It was a hard choice to make, but we made it together and I opted for a double mastectomy with reconstruction. I’ve heeled nicely and am now getting ready to have the second stage of reconstruction. I am on with my life now, walking, doing yoga, painting in watercolor, etc. You would never know all the surgery that I have been through and I have no regrets about my decisions. I feel well and I’m grateful that I did not skip my mammogram this year. Early detection literally saved my life.”