As I moved from downward dog to warrior to the tree pose at a yoga class recently, the twinges and pulls in my left upper arm again reminded me what I have been through over the last three years.
Nothing prepares you to hear the words, “You have cancer.” That was confirmation of my fears after a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsies revealed I had “abnormal” findings. In other words, the “Big C.” It all started in April 2016 when I felt a lump in my armpit while showering. I thought (and prayed) it was just an infected bump from razor burn. One call to my OBGYN and they had me in the office within 24 hours to see my doctor. I was due to have my mammogram within the next few weeks anyway, but my physician expedited everything on my behalf.
Invasive ductal carcinoma, and it had already spread to my lymph nodes. That’s what the lump was in my armpit. How could this have happened? I never missed a mammogram since turning 40. But, as I now know, it wasn’t enough. Like 40% - 50% of women in the United States, I had dense breasts. That can make it tricky to see growths in mammograms. Fortunately, we live in a region where we have access to some of the best medical and technological advances available today. Enter 3D mammograms, now widely available. 3D mammography, also known as tomosynthesis, is the biggest breakthrough in breast cancer detection in 30 years. With an increased cancer detection rate, it is superior to conventional 2D mammography with hardly any difference in the screening process. While the 2D mammogram takes x-ray images from the side, the 3D takes multiple images of the breast in slices, allowing the radiologist to examine the breast, layer by layer. Because more of the breast can be reviewed, it reduces the risk for call backs.
I was stunned when seeing my 2D mammogram side by side with the 3D mammogram. I had three malignant tumors in my left breast, one nearly an inch wide. In the 2D image, you couldn’t see them at all because my breast tissue was so dense. But in the 3D image, they lit up like a Christmas tree. The 3D mammogram saved my life.
I underwent 5 months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, two months of daily radiation and a 13-month clinical trial testing a chemotherapy drug that I hope will deter my breast cancer from returning. I often wonder if I had a 3D mammogram the year before, if the tumors could have been spotted sooner and I wouldn’t have had such intense treatments.
So, here’s your chance to be be the CEO of your health. Please take action and make sure you are doing the following things:
1. Do monthly breast self exams. For how-to’s, click here.
2. See your OBGYN your annual exam.
4. Ask about getting a 3D mammogram. If they say no, push back.
5. Remind your friends, sisters, moms and the men in your life to do the same.
Do you feel empowered? Get on it! Be the CEO of your health today.