I was 47 when I was first diagnosed with Her2 positive breast cancer. I'd had regular mammograms for many years, probably since my 30's, but the cancer had gone undetected because I had dense breasts. I'm told this is common, so if any of you ladies have this also -- let me encourage you to do your self-exams, get mammograms, and even ultrasounds or MRI's if your doctor will approve it. I was told that my cancer had likely been growing for 3-4 years before it was finally detected. At this point it had spread to lymph nodes and was considered Stage 3.
Prior to my diagnosis, I had a much different perception of breast cancer, and I'm afraid that many women still do. I didn't think of it as a life-threatening disease, but rather I thought that the worst that could happen would be that I'd have to have a mastectomy and lose my breasts. I've had people comment to me about other "more serious" types of cancer, as though I merely had the flu and would be feeling better after a bowl of soup. I have to admit, I used to feel the same way about breast cancer.
When my oncologist discussed my course of treatment, which included chemo, surgery, radiation, and more chemo, I looked at my calendar and planned for sometime next year when it would be all over and my life would get back to "normal." Little did I know that my life would take on a whole different kind of "normal" and that cancer is an ongoing battle, whether that is by body or by spirit or both.
I had a couple of doctors tell me that mine was an "aggressive" form of breast cancer, but I was new to "cancer speak" and I took this to mean "don't put off treatment" and "we'll have to be aggressive in our treatment plan." I never thought that "aggressive" meant life-threatening. After all, this was JUST breast cancer, right? Since then, the cancer has spread twice to my lung and recently to my brain so my battle goes on!
I recently watched a TV show with a well-known doctor on the topic of breast cancer. I was excited to watch it and hoped to hear of some new developments. Instead, I heard the doctor seem to downplay the seriousness of breast cancer. He even ended by stating that breast cancer is survivable (in some cases, yes, but not always). I was ready to start throwing things at the TV by that point! I fear that half-truths like that only perpetuate women's tendency to not take breast cancer seriously.
Here are some breast cancer truths for 2010 (per the National Cancer Institute and breast cancer.org):
- Breast cancer is the most frequent cancer in women worldwide
- 261,900 women developed breast cancer in the US in 2010
- 39,840 women died from the disease in the US in 2010, roughly 110 every day
- About 1 in 8 US women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime