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How I Found My Breast Cancer

2020 March 9

I’m usually a very open person. As anyone regularly reading this blog knows I will tell anyone about anything in my life. But aside from telling close family members, I kept my cancer diagnosis to myself for months.

I guess I needed time to process everything. I went from knowing very little about cancer to being assigned a cancer team and given a huge binder of information all about my situation. I was afraid people would treat me differently, leave me out, pity me, or tell me cancer horror stories.

But, after that processing time, it felt really good to tell people. I started with a few phone calls. Then, once my surgery date was scheduled, I let it rip. I told everyone and the support I received helped keep me positive and courageous, even though I was really really scared. AND, I’ve loved how many people have reached out to tell me they scheduled their first mammogram or one they’ve been putting off for a while. If I can help remind women to take care of themselves, sharing my personal journey will be worth it.

It all started…

It all started back in Virginia. As we were getting ready to move (aka super distracted), I noticed…an irregularity on my breast. Basically it was #8 on the graphic below…

I love this excellent illustration courtesy of Elizabeth Strafford

You look for lumps, right? I’d never heard anything about breast cancer showing up as dry skin, so I just ignored it. After breastfeeding two kids, I’ve seen worse down there. But when it wasn’t gone after a month of ignoring, I decided to get it checked out. My friend Amy says it was my gut telling me something was wrong.

We’d just arrived in Seattle and I didn’t a doctor, so I googled the local hospitals and made an appointment at Virginia Mason Women’s Center. I wasn’t due for an annual, so this appointment took five minutes. The doctor said she didn’t feel anything but I should make an appointment at the Breast Center to get it checked out. I wasn’t thrilled but thought it would probably be nothing…until I was set up with a hours long appointment that would include an overview exam, a mammogram, and an ultrasound. On the call I asked the very nice scheduler what I could research to be prepared for this visit and she kindly gave me some links on cancer.org.

I started to worry.

At my appointment, a breast doctor did an exam and said my symptoms didn’t necessarily mean I had cancer and if all came back clear on the scans, I should use Aquaphor and see her again in a month.

Then I experienced my first ever mammogram! Ladies, common. It’s not that bad. Sure it feels like your boob might explode but it’s only for a second! The technicians were incredibly nice and it was over quick. I waited for a few minutes for my ultrasound before being escorted into…another mammogram room. For another scan. Which I knew was bad.

We See Calcifications

Usually, mammogram results are mailed to patients. But in this case, the doctor told me I’d have answers immediately…thank goodness because I’m no good at waiting. After the ultrasound the doctor came in to speak with me. “We see significant calcifications in your left breast and want you to have a biopsy.” I didn’t cry until I asked her if I should tell people about this. Just the thought of telling people made me so incredibly sad. She told me 80% of the time biopsies come back clear, and that there were many reasons for calcifications to show up on a scan.

But I knew. I knew it would be cancer. And anyone who knows me knows I’m a positive person, I try to see the best in a situation. But in this case I was positive I had cancer.

Biopsy

I didn’t tell anyone but Stu. I didn’t want to tell people I was having a biopsy and worry them and then call and say “False alarm!!” That’s annoying. So I went in the next week for the biopsy. Not to scare anyone going through this, but damn biopsies are terrible. Mine was “stereotactic” or “mammography-guided” meaning I was laying on a very uncomfortable table with a hole in it for my breast to hang through. The radiologist sat under the table and squeezed said breast in the mother of all mammograms while what can only be described as drilling into my breast to suck out tissue.

It was horrible.

I went home and waited for the results. Turns out we left for Thanksgiving a few days later—a week in Sanibel, Florida with my parents and extended family—and managed to forget about possibly having cancer for a bit.

It was positive.

My doctor called on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. I was in a swimsuit happily sautéing corn for salsa while Stu had the kids at the pool when I answered the phone. “Your biopsy came back positive for Ductal Carcinoma In Situ,” was what she said and my shocked answer was, “Really?? Holy shit!” I know, not very profesh, and I know said I was sure I’d have it, but it was still an absolute shock.

The doctor told me I was considered “Stage 0” and that I’d be meeting with my cancer team when I got back to town, but that I should expect a lumpectomy and radiation to treat this “very treatable, very curable cancer”. Curable. Stage 0. Treatable. Those words carried me through that week. They helped when I told my parents and closest friends.

But, as with so many medical situation, things change.

Things change, like here I am almost three weeks out from my bi-lateral mastectomy (that means both boobs = gone) and still can’t really believe this has all taken place. But I feel lucky every day because my diagnosis could have been worse.

More on why I chose to go this route in the next post!

* I only know about my own personal situation, I know nothing about other types of cancer. If you have a similar diagnosis and want to chat, please get in touch! Happy to share my experience any help in any way. I’ve shared lots of pictures and information on instagram too. *

2 Responses
  1. Vi Spinner permalink
    March 9, 2020

    Thank you for sharing. I was there that Thanksgiving Day & no one knew what you were going thru. So good to know you are handling things in your extraordinary way. Your picture is so nice and it is so nice to know that you are Cancer Free now. Love you so much. Gramma!!

  2. March 13, 2020

    Thanks for sharing all of this. I just met with a new doctor because of my new job (and a sinus infection) and when she asked me if I had any other questions about my health, I was thinking of you when I asked her when I should schedule my first mammogram (I turn 40 this summer). So I have an appointment for August. I’m so, so glad it was caught early and I am really grateful you’re sharing your experience and thought process. Any of us could be next.
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