In January of 2019, my routine mammogram came back normal. But just a few months later, I noticed tenderness moving from side to side – and it wasn’t going away. I couldn’t even wear a bra.
I know my body, and it was telling me that something was wrong, so I called my OBGYN and she invited me back in for another breast exam. She did not detect any alarming signs initially, but wasn’t ready to concede that the cause was just hormonal. I had another mammogram, which came back normal. Here’s what made all the difference. I have dense breast tissue, and up to that point, I had never understood what that meant. It turns out that that makes early stage breast cancer more difficult to detect in a routine diagnostic exam. Because my doctor believed me, she took it one step further, and this time ordered an ultrasound guided mammogram. Finally, an abnormality was detected, and the biopsy that followed confirmed that I had Stage II breast cancer in the right breast.
I had lots of different options for surgery but I already knew what I wanted – and that was a bilateral mastectomy. My oncologist was surprised by the decision, but I had my Patient Navigator Evette by my side, who had accompanied me to my appointments to stand with me. Hearing that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do was a huge help. I prayed on it, and after talking with Evette and my surgeon, decided to stand firm in my original decision. Finally with everyone on board, we moved forward with the first procedure, a mastectomy of my right breast in September of 2019, and the pathology report confirmed it had removed all of the cancer.
The next step was radiation, and in November of 2019, I started my course of 36 treatments. The hardest thing to accept was how little energy I had during that entire time – I felt like I was someone I had never even met before. But it was a crucial time for me and my family, as I was welcoming a new grandson. Because we were just forming a bond with one another, it gave me a reason to push through the pain and fight. In May of 2020, I finally had a mastectomy of my left breast. Reconstruction has been a long process, but I chose what was best for me.
This whole time, Evette has been like a member of my family, advocating for me and cheering me on through all of the tough spots. I joined one of the BCRC’s private online forums, where I learned a lot about what the procedure would look like, know how to prepare and what I would need. When BCRC took their in-person Support Circles virtual due to COVID-19, I was finally able to join and I still attend groups to this day. It helps as an outlet, to be able to release the feelings I’m carrying. Otherwise, you battle it, and think you’re in it by yourself.
If there’s one thing I want anyone reading my story to take from it, it’s this – advocate for yourself. It’s a scary and emotional experience, and I get the temptation to simply take what your doctor tells you and move on with your life. But Black women are statistically significantly more likely to have dense breast tissue, which makes early detection more difficult. Mammograms and even 3D mammograms, like in my case, may not pick it up until it’s in Stage III or IV, and that’s not fair for you or your body. Without that ultrasound guided mammogram my diagnosis would have been caught much later.
Advocate for yourself, listen to your body, and ask your doctor what all of your options are.
If you or someone you know is facing breast cancer and could use our support, please visit our website or call our helpline at 512-524-2560.
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