One of Emily’s friends who just finished chemotherapy and surgery for breast cancer told her that I needed to write a blog about breast cancer and self exams. She seems to think I have a lot of readers and I am a nurse and I should just do this. However, my initial thought was my blog is about my family and not about social topics so that’s not possible. And in the next thought, it was as if God picked up a big old bat and smacked me upside the head and said idiot you have breast cancer in your immediate family and Emily’s friend is like twenty-five years old. And so here it goes as only I could talk about it.
I knew for years that my Grandma Carty had breast cancer and that was back when they did a radical mastectomy and removed muscle. She had to learn how to use her arm again and it was horrible. I always thought she was around thirty-five but my mom informed me not long ago that is was after my dad was born. She had my father at the age of forty-five so I had the age all wrong. She lived until the age of ninety-three I think. I am really bad with ages as you will see.
Back in 1994 my mother had a mammogram in April and she never received the results. She didn’t think too much about it until six months later when they contacted her to tell her it had gotten misplaced and she had a suspicious area. She knew right then it was cancer and our family doctor told her to calm down as she was ten steps ahead of the game. My sister was headed to South Africa for Christmas so we kept it a secret from her and she had her biopsy in December while Karen was out of the country. I took her of course and I remember the doctor telling us that he was 99% sure it was cancer but we were to wait until the pathology came back. It was only in one boob but she wanted them both removed. They refused and said that was overkill and only removed the cancerous one. She would then need yearly mammograms and be charged full price even though she only had one boob as she did not opt for reconstruction. We then met Dr. Greco the oncologist who was recommended by one of my burn unit buddies. He was running two hours behind but when he finally came in, it was like we were the only people on the planet and he was wonderful. She was put into a study and had four rounds of chemo and then took either a placebo or tamoxifen for the next five years. (She eventually found out she took tamoxifen). After her third round of chemo she told Brian and I that she was dying. In his usual I can’t handle this emotional stuff he told her that was stupid that dying people didn’t carry on they were dying and she would be fine. She was of course fine, but a nurse he is not. She made it to the five-year cancer free mark, then the ten-year and is currently at year twenty-two. She still smokes and the doctors still blame everything health wise on her smoking.
Her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer maybe three years ago. I cannot remember her age but she was already in assistive living as she was blind from macular degeneration and nearly deaf. She decided not to do any treatment and is in heaven.
I will be honest and say I am not good on keeping up with self exams but I have had a mammogram every year since the age of thirty-five. I think I missed two years because life got busy. I so often hear people say they hurt too much and all other excuses. I am not going to lie, I do not enjoy having my boobs manhandled by a stranger and jammed into a machine. A couple of times it has felt like my collar-bone was meeting my waist but it lasted at the most fifteen seconds. Fifteen seconds of discomfort was more than worth another twenty-two years for my mother. No one could feel her lump, even when the doctors knew where it was they still could not feel it. So a mammogram saved her life and in the back of my head it might be an excuse for me skipping the self exams.
A nurse I use to work with on Women’s Health was diagnosed five months after having her third daughter. She felt a lump and at first the doctor office (not sure if it was her doctor or a nurse practitioner) was like it’s probably just a milk duct but then decided lets send you for an ultrasound (I think, its her story not mine and I suck at details). She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer with mets to the liver. The survival rate is five years so. I mean it just sucks. She is currently in remission but every PET scan is a nightmare until the result are back. I cannot imagine what she goes through on a daily basis. She just had a second birthday since the diagnosis and you better believe your life she was grateful for it.
Since my mom did not have reconstruction she had a breast prosthesis that she wore in her bra. The thing looked and felt like a real boob. Emily was two at the time and she would put it under her shirt and say she was having a baby. My mom and I thought it was hilarious but it would make my sister so made she could have spit rocks. She really did not have our sense of humor. In the grand scheme of things it hurt no one and I never took any pictures or might have just added it to this post.
Mole Moral ~ Do your self exams, see your gynecologist yearly and have your mammograms in the intervals they are recommended. No excuses!