In 1969, the dark ages of breast cancer, my mother died at the age of 42; I was 13. She had been to a number of doctors knowing something was wrong and was misdiagnosed time after time, until she finally found the doctor who would diagnose her correctly. Unfortunately, it was too late for her, and the doctor told my family, "If only you had gotten her to me sooner....".
I spent the next 30 years scared to death and certain that I too would get cancer. That's why my breast health was carefully monitored and I got mammograms early and yearly. I was starting to feel that I had beaten the odds and for the next 9 years I was right. But it was precisely because of the annual mammograms that they found my cancer early.
I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS), the same diagnosis Martina Navratilova would later be diagnosed with; stage 0 cancer that thankfully had not broken out of the milk ducts. Not genetically predisposed, I had a lumpectomy followed by radiation and am now halfway through a 5-year regimen of Tamoxifen. Not to mention, that while I was receiving my radiation treatments, my sister was diagnosed with uterine cancer and then ovarian cancer. Fortunately, both were in their early stages, but she did have chemotherapy. We sisters became sisters in the fight to beat cancer.
Last year, after being estranged from my mother’s sister for 40 years, I was reacquainted with my aunt and found out that she too had breast cancer 15 years ago. "See," she tells me..."I beat it and so did you."
I wish I could say I was brave and strong like all those women you read about, but I was absolutely crushed. Fortunately, my doctor and his staff encouraged me to go to his support group and then individual counseling. That helped me to face myself and my disease.
I've learned that life is a precious gift, that I am very lucky and that my mom has been watching over me. I've learned that a lot has changed in medicine over the last 40 years with the treatment of breast cancer and I'm a living testament that early detection saves lives.
Today, I'm at peace. I no longer worry about what will or won't happen. I know that whatever life brings me, that I can handle it. Cancer is very treatable now and I encourage everyone I can to make sure they get their annual exams.