October is breast cancer awareness month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease.
Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the breast.
According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.:
- One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.
- Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women.
- Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women.
- Each year it is estimated that over 252,710 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,500 will die.
- Although breast cancer in men is rare, an estimated 2,470 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 460 will die each year.
- On average, every 2 minutes a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer and 1 woman will die of breast cancer every 13 minutes.
- Over 3.3 million breast cancer survivors are alive in the United States today.
What does this mean? You need to know your body and you need to know the symptoms. While many of the symptoms of breast cancer are invisible without a professional screening (remember to get your mammogram or ultrasound), some symptoms can be caught early just by looking for certain changes in your breasts and being proactive about your breast health.
What else? Be supportive! Tell your story. Listen to others tell their stories. Stories are powerful.
As many of you know, we have some amazing women with BEAUTIFUL stories at Elemental Esthetics. What you may not know is that 2 out of 12 of us are breast cancer survivors!
My story begins and ends: I am so blessed.
Ever faithful to my yearly mammogram, I was quite sure it couldn’t be cancer, because well, cancer doesn’t hurt – right?
I had felt pain under my breast but initially passed it off as just “having over doing it”. When the pain continued, I talked with my doctor. She ordered additional pictures and an ultrasound. After the results were evaluated, I was assured there was no evidence of a problem. I told myself to stop being a hypochondriac- there was nothing wrong – ignore it.
Over the next three years, the pain continued. Sometimes it hurt more than others – but always a notable discomfort. Each year I returned for my annual mammogram and each year I was told nothing unusual was detected.
Now it’s March 27, 2017 and I show up for my annual visit. The receptionist asked if I would prefer a 3-D mammogram. I inquired “what’s the difference?” The basic answer was more definition in the pictures and an up-charge of $60 insurance wouldn’t cover. I replied “sure – I’m worth it.” I am very grateful that was my answer. That 3-D mammogram discovered my cancer. It probably saved my life. (Incidentally, as of April 1, 2017 3-D mammograms are covered in full by most insurance companies.)
After meeting with the breast surgeon, I had a needle biopsy (which is about as fun as it sounds). I then scheduled appointments for second and third opinions. These appointments included two more needle biopsies. I received the same diagnosis from all three doctors: stage 0 meaning it was almost certain the cancer was contained and it had not spread to my lymph nodes. That was a great relief, but could not be confirmed until surgery. However, what came as little surprise to me, even though cancerous areas and suspicious areas were detected in both breasts, the main concentration was exactly where I had been feeling the pain for three years.
I was scheduled for a double mastectomy for June 15th. It was a six hour surgery and everything went well, however, the tissue removed in the most effected area had cancer cells right up to the edge, meaning they couldn’t be certain they had gotten everything. My options in dealing with this situation:
- I could wait and watch (and worry) – so, no.
- I could undergo radiation which was explained because of the angle would leave me with scarring on my heart and / or lungs – so again, no. OR
- After the expanders had done their work and I was ready for reconstruction, more tissue could be removed at that time and cadaver skin would be used to patch me up.
I opted for number 3.
Oh, and did I mention, after the surgery, I developed a rash? A horrible, terrible, awful rash. The plastic surgeon was hesitant to give me any steroids as it would inhibit the healing process. It eventually became so unbearable, there was no choice. The steroids did their work, and I was scheduled to undergo the next (this time four hour) surgery to take place on August 31st.
The second surgery went as planned. I again developed a rash which I must admit, each time, hurt more than my incisions. I was uncomfortable but grateful to have this behind me.
I am now a little more than a year out and my re-checks have confirmed that so far everything is “good”. The past two Octobers, I have added a subtle, but vibrant pink streak in my hair. It has opened up conversations both with people I know, and with strangers, about the importance of mammograms – but most importantly 3-D MAMMOGRAMS. Settle for nothing less – you are so worth it. And, although there may not be a doctor in the world who will put their stamp on the fact that what I was feeling was cancer, I find it too coincidental that the main concentration of cancerous cells were found where I had felt the most pain. You know your body – don’t ignore what you know isn’t feeling right. I really dodged a bullet. It was caught early enough. I did not require radiation, chemo or follow up medications.
I thank God often – but really, it can’t be often enough.
I am so very blessed.
DO NOT IGNORE THE SIGNS YOUR BODY GIVES YOU!
It all started with some pain that would come and go in my lower right abdomen. That pain sent me to the doctor several times being checked for UTI’s – always negative. After dealing with it for 5 months, I told my primary care doctor I needed to be sent to someone who could figure out what was going on. She recommended I do a few tests and also schedule my mammogram. (I was overdue.) I had no concerns about any of the tests she recommended, especially the mammogram. I had already had a few with no problems.
Three different tests were scheduled. Number one and two came back normal. Number three was the mammogram. No worries until I got a phone call that said I needed to come back for a 3D mammogram. Still not too concerned, I went in for my 3D mammogram and ultrasound. After reviewing, the doctor on site that day felt more comfortable if I would have a biopsy because of my family history. Ok. At this time, I’m still pretty calm. Scheduled the biopsy, have the biopsy performed. The waiting game… Wait for the results.
Monday morning I receive the call, “Ms. Boston, This is Mercy Imaging. They have detected breast cancer from your biopsy.” What?! This can’t be real!
I was given a few doctor names to consult with and that is when the war began. For weeks I was in and out of doctors’ offices trying to find the right match. After MANY LONG days of phone calls and appointments, we (my family and I- because you shouldn’t do this alone) found the team.
Surgery was scheduled, and it seemed like forever before it was going to happen. I wanted it done NOW and the horrible demon OUT OF ME.
Fast forward to surgery day…
Surgery went smoothly. No lymph nodes effected. I was feeling pretty good. Should only have a couple nights stay. Well… later that evening, I took a deep breath and had excruciating pain in my chest that brought tears to my eyes. The doctor was brought in. I had a chest x-ray. We were informed (before surgery) of the 1-3% risk of nicking a lung while the port was being surgically placed, and, guess what? Yep. I fell into that 1-3%. Off to another surgery to have a chest tube inserted. Not only did this happen once but TWICE. Yes. Twice. The first chest tube was removed and all went well until that evening and the excruciating pain was back. The time the chest tube was being left in for an extra day.
So… what was supposed to be a two night stay in the hospital turned into a a six night stay.
Finally home to recover and get chemotherapy scheduled and on the books.
Chemo started first of July 2017. I will never forget a comment the nurse made just before giving me the “red devil” (one of the chemo drugs). She had started by putting the extra thick blue gloves on and said, “You have to be very careful with this medicine. If it gets on your skin, it will cause 3rd degree burns.”
Wait. What did she just say? 3RD DEGREE BURNS? They are injecting this into my body?!
It did turn my urine a fun red color though! lol
A month into chemo and I am put into menopause and admitted to the hospital for very low blood counts. I vacationed (all inclusive plan) at the hospital for about four days and went home with the souvenir blood transfusion.
Chemo continued for another 3 months without complications except for losing ALL OF MY HAIR. Yes. That IS a complication. (I was the stubborn one who was going to brush it, pull it and cut it out on my own because it was the hardest part of this whole war for me. At least I thought so in that moment.) Well, that didn’t work. I had to wake my fiance at midnight to shave the parts of my head I could not reach after spending hours brushing and brushing and crying and crying.
Chemo ended the last part of November, and I couldn’t be more happy to start growing my hair again and gain my energy back.
The last surgery was scheduled the end of December to remove the God awful boulders (expanders) from my chest and receive my foobies (implants). It has been almost a year, and I am finally starting to feel like myself again. I thank each and every person and organization (like the TaTa Sisterhood) who traveled through the war with me and still check in on me. Love to you all!
What Should You Be Doing?
- Take care of yourself
- Get sleep
- Stay hydrated
- Get a yearly check up. Your annual wellness visit (with screenings- tests and exams used to find disease in people who don’t have any symptoms) may be the difference in life or death.
- Check your breasts monthly. (Breast Exam How To)
- Listen to your body. Pay attention. You know your body best
- Be an advocate for yourself. If you recognize something has changed, speak up. Do not give up. Do not take no as an answer.
- Be informed. Know the symptoms.
- Share your story. (Listen to others tell their stories)
- Empower others. Lift others up. Be relational.
Local (Saint Louis) Resources
Our Medical Director, Dr. Allison Walsh, MD at Obstetrics & Gynecology Care, LLC primarily refers her patients to St. Louis Breast Center She is “particularly impressed with their efforts in hereditary cancer risk assessment”.
If for any reason you are currently seeking a physician, I highly recommend Obstetrics & Gynecology Care, LLC due to their holistic approach to women’s health. Their tag line “caring for women is what we love to do” is a reflection of the passion for you to be the best version of yourself.
Resources Related To TNBC (Triple Negative Breast Cancer)
(A special thank you to the Ta Ta Sisterhood for providing us with the following resources that they share with their clients!)
- The TNBC Foundation is an organization that strives to be a credible source for triple negative breast cancer information, a catalyst for science and patient advocacy groups, and a caring community with meaningful services for patients and their families. They have several resources explaining TNBC, treatment pathways etc. They also have online patient forums and support group resources. htts://www.tnbcfoundation.org/
- The Susan G. Komen Foundation information specific to TNBC is available at http://www.komen.org/uploadedfiles/content_binaries/komeed079100.pdf.
- Triple Step Toward The Cure provides both general and financial support through its Community Resource Program for women diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and their families. http://www.triplesteptowardthecure.org
Resources For All Cancer Patients In The Saint Louis, Some Limited To Patients with Financial Need
- Cleaning for a Reason provides free housecleaning for those who have breast cancer – 1 time a month for 4 months while in treatment. One must sign up and have the doctor fax a note confirming the treatment. Cleaning for a Reason will have a participating maid service in patient’s zip code area arrange for the service http://www.cleaningforareason.org
- Food Outreach provides nutritional services to men, women, and children undergoing cancer treatment. The meals are frozen for clients to take home. 314-652-3663 http://www.havenhousestl.org
- Cancer Support Community provides free programs: support groups, separate groups for caregivers, education workshops, and mind body activities such as: yoga, relaxation & visualization. Also provides vouchers towards the cost of medical supplies directly related to a cancer diagnosis through their Staenberg Family Cancer DME such as walkers, shower chairs, etc. are additionally available. Patient needs a referral from a social worker, nurse, or physician; form available online; 314-238-2000 http://www.cancersupportstl.org
- Cancer Care provides free counseling, support groups, education, financial assistance, and practical help to anyone affected by cancer. 1-800-813-HOPE (4673) http://www.cancercare.org
- Gateway to Hope provides comprehensive medical and surgical care in partnership with other agencies for those diagnosed with breast cancer who are uninsured or under-insured. 314-569-1113 http://www.gatewayofhope.org
You are BEAUTIFUL.
You are STRONG.
You are WORTHY.
Please take care of you. TODAY.
-Stacy is an amazing mom, Family Educator/ Life Coach, and the Office Manager at Elemental Esthetics in St Louis, MO