Barbara Weissman had been diligent about getting her annual mammograms since she was in her mid 30s. “I had cystic breasts and was always feeling lumps, so I was advised to begin getting the tests early,” she explains.
During a routine mammogram in 1995, nothing suspicious showed up; still, her radiologist advised doing a sonogram. “I had just started with this doctor,” Barbara says, “and because I had dense tissue, he wanted to take the extra precaution.”
The sonogram detected a small lump far back in her right breast, and it turned out to be cancerous. But the good news was that the tumor was found very early; her cancer was diagnosed as Stage 1.
Barbara was given different treatment options, including having a lumpectomy and radiation. But after speaking with survivors and an oncologist, she chose to have a full mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction, which involves using tissue from the abdomen to create a breast mound.
“The surgery took nine-and-a-half hours, and it was painful,” she recalls. “But I knew this was the right choice for me.”
Barbara acknowledges that the early days were difficult. “I was very frightened every time I had something as simple as a sore throat. I thought, ‘Maybe this is cancer.’ ”
Barbara went into therapy, and she found it to be extremely helpful. As time went on, she grew less frightened of all those other “normal, regular life illnesses.” Today, she even accompanies friends to their mammograms. “I tell them, ‘God forbid you found out you have cancer, you have to believe it’s not a death sentence.’ Look at me! I’m here, and it’s been 18 years!”