Breast Cancer: Awareness Saves Lives
“Be careful what you wish for” is an adage that, like many sayings, often proves true. I remember in my early 50s wishing I knew what color my hair was under my dark auburn hair dye. Interested in adding a touch of dignified gray to my look, I blanched at growing out my hair and having that lovely two-tone look of gray and auburn. So, I continued spending a small fortune coloring my hair.
Little did I know that a very thorough doctor would change my life and hair for good.
Looking to identify an innocuous spot on a chest x-ray, my doctor ordered a Pet Scan. The results showed the spot to be nothing but identified a tumor that turned out to be lobular breast cancer. Only a small portion of breast cancers are lobular, which often doesn’t show any signs or symptoms in its earlier stages. In 2005, when I was diagnosed, most mammograms could not detect this particular type of breast cancer. By the size of my tumor, my doctors estimated that it had been growing in me for at least three years.
At that time, women with lobular breast cancer often were not diagnosed until the disease had significantly progressed. In my case, I was not quite at Stage 3. Believe me, I have thanked my doctor over and over for ordering that Pet Scan!
Three surgeries, six months of chemo and six weeks of radiation later, I was cancer-free, not to mention bald. At least I no longer had to worry about a slow march of gray hair overtaking my auburn. My gray hair was free to grow in unencumbered.
As we celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, I would like to remind everyone (men get this disease as well!) to have regular checkups and mammograms. The technology has improved significantly, allowing doctors to diagnose lobular cancers more easily and more patients to survive.
If breast cancer runs in your family (it didn’t in mine), you have to be even more vigilant. Get tested for the BRCA gene to see what your likelihood is of contracting the disease. Some young women I know who have tested at an 80 percent or higher risk of breast cancer have taken the courageous step of having double mastectomies and reconstructive surgery – a difficult choice but one that was right for them.
Whether breast cancer runs in your family or not, ignorance is not bliss. Another one of those adages that proves all too true.
For more information, go to www.nationalbreastcancer.org.
– Sally Hogarty
14-year cancer survivor