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Breast cancer -- General discussion

By EmpowHER February 4, 2008 - 4:21pm
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Share your successes and stories about breast cancer.

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Thanks for your post! That is true that the fear of the unknown is (sometimes) worse than the disease itself.

How are you doing now? We would love to hear your story on a SHARE (go to http://www.empowher.com and click on "SHARE")

June 12, 2008 - 6:23pm
EmpowHER Guest

I hate going to the dentist, the mammo and the pap smear. In fact, I can be really good at stretching that 1 year into a year and a half due to my busy schedule or some other good excuse I can come up with. I think it is mostly due to the fear of the unknown. Getting the tests done makes us think about the possibilities that something bad could happen to us and that makes us uncomfortable.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37. I have a family history and that is why I went in for my mammogram before age 40. Finding out I had an irregular mammogram scared the pants off me but it also probably saved my life. The mammogram caught my cancer very, very early. If I had waited a few more years to get my mammogram, that may not have been the case.

I thought getting cancer was the scariest thing that could ever happen to me. Now, 2 years later after having faced breast cancer and survived, I realize the fear was probably worse than the real thing. Maybe the worst thing that could have happened to me was not taking advantage of tests we have available because of fear.


June 12, 2008 - 5:45pm

My daughter had a fibrous cyst removed from her breast, when she was only 17! We don't have a history of breast cancer on either side of the family, so it came as a surprise to us that our daughter had such a health issue. However, we do have a history of lymphoma on both sides, and my daughter's oncologist checks up on her every year.

How she found the lump was by self-examination, and I'm so grateful that she had learned this in her health science class in school, as well as from her Gynecologist. Had she not detected it, who knows what would have happened to our beautiful girl!

February 15, 2008 - 4:14pm
HERWriter Guide

Hi Michelle

I get mammograms yearly and have done since I was 28. The theory (according to my doctors at the University of Michigan) is that women who have had a direct relative (mother/sister etc) with breast cancer should start mammograms 10 years BEFORE that relative was diagnosed. I skipped three recent years in a row because I was pregnant three years in a row and last year’s mammogram wasn’t much use because I was exclusively breastfeeding which makes it hard to read.

Now I’m four years behind. I just had a breast check done by a doctor and am making my appointment for a mammogram this week. And as always, I hope to get that letter a week later that tells me I’m ok. I wonder – am I at more risk because my mother had breast cancer when I was growing inside her (answer – no) or am I at more risk because she had aggressive cancer that spread quickly and she was my mother (answer – yes, maybe).

I don’t have the luxury of ignoring my family history and focusing on the ‘bright side’. My bright side is that I am informed and continue to educate myself on preventative and detection methods (don’t forget breast MRI’s and ultrasounds in addition to mammograms) and that I am my own best cancer detector because most women find the lump first.

As morbid as this sounds- I have also thought about what I’d do if I do get that phone call and I DO have breast cancer. Never mind treatment, what about all the practical stuff? We have no relatives here to help out and our friends have jobs and families of their own. However, we WILL call on them to help out, as well as some of our great neighbors. Cancer organizations have large rosters of volunteers who can run errands, bring meals and help with house and child care. Although money will be tight, we can temporarily hire a part-time babysitter who can help when I’m throwing my guts up or picking chunks of hair up from the bathroom floor! And I have thought through what I will tell my small children.

A problem is only a problem if there is no solution. Solving the problem before it arises gives a woman more time to focus on her treatment, and less time stressing about everything else because cancer affects EVERYONE.
This sounds fine, like I’m all calm and prepared. But I know I’ll be terrified if I get that call. Who wouldn’t be? The best thing I can do is take care of myself and have a game plan ready just in case. Other than that, I’ve known for a long time that I could get what my mother got but ‘maybe’s’ cannot overtake my life. Life is too good to let the ‘what if’s’ take over. I’m aware, I get tested, I test myself, and my contingency plans are thought through. And on I march.

February 10, 2008 - 8:29am
Expert HERWriter

Two days ago I went out to Mayo for my annual Mammogram. What I discovered was that I had missed last years test.
I must have been so busy getting the site ready, that I completely forgot about it.

Not a very good patient advocate, am I? "Not So Much" as I say! Advocate for everyone else, but NOT SO MUCH FOR OURSELVES.

Anyway, I was scared out of my mind that they were going to find something wrong with me because I'd waited too long in between mammograms. I'm telling you, the fear factor is enough to make you crazy. Then the sitting there, waiting..waiting.. for them to tell you it's OK for you to get dressed now...really sent me over the edge.

What I realized is that I've been scared into believing that I'm going to develop breast cancer. Is that a good thing? I hadn't realized how heavily it weighs on my mind, until I found out I'd missed my annual test.

What can we do to take some of the fear away? Do we quit reading all the negative stories? Do we stop watching rising statistics? Do we stop looking at anything that's pink?

Can anyone give me some ideas or suggestions on how they handle this?

I can't be the only one who feels this way. And I have to say that I am not easily scared. But,this truly frightens me. I can't begin to imagine what happens to a woman when she's told that she needs to have more tests.


February 8, 2008 - 10:19pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Michelle King Robson)

Mammograms and breast exams aren’t enough, especially for women under 50! Mammograms and breast exams don’t work that well in women under 50 because younger breasts are too dense. Mammograms have saved a lot of lives, but did you know that by the time a lump is visible on a mammogram it’s been growing inside you undetected for about 8 years? And by the time you feel a lump it’s been growing about 10 years? My doctor offers a new test that checks for precancerous cells years before anything would be seen on a mammogram. The idea is to identify the problem before it’s cancer so you have a shot at preventing it. It’s called the HALO test. Some women say they wouldn’t want to know but I believe knowledge is power, and we make the best decisions when we’re informed.

September 23, 2008 - 11:42am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Michelle King Robson)

I'm with you, Michelle! I get especially paranoid about breast cancer every year during breast cancer awareness month, when you're just bombarded with breast cancer messages and it seems as if it's inevitable.

I don't know what to do about the fear. I tend to try to block things out completely, I guess as a survival mechanism, and at times think that if I avoid going to get a mammogram then I'll be fine. No result is a good result, right? Uh..., as Michelle says, not so much.

I guess you just have to take a deep breath, appreciate the fact that breast cancer awareness is being spread, get that annual mammogram, pap smear, your teeth cleanings, etc., and simply live your life. A long, healthy one.

Kristin Park

February 23, 2008 - 3:50pm
(reply to Michelle King Robson)

I've realized as I become older, I have also started feeling more vulnerable to diseases that I do not have a family history with (for instance: after the birth of my son, I developed DeQuervain’s Syndrome (a.k.a. “mother’s wrist”), and after my weekly physical therapy makes my wrist sore, I wonder if I will develop a more chronic and debilitating tendonitis or arthritis that will make it impossible to hold my son?! I have no family history of either.

What an awful thought! Then...I realize I have to stop with this line of thinking. I have an aunt, just 65, who thinks she has every disease and condition known-to-humankind. I don't want to be like that. I don't want to live a life, wondering when it's going to end or when I'll be suffering.

** Don't Believe Everything You Think **

Our brains like to run through "worst-case scenarios", probably as a survival mechanism from the woolly mammoth era. Now, it's not so helpful, and THINKING about stress can actually CAUSE more physiological stress.

So...we have control over our thoughts. We don't have to BELIEVE everything that our not-always-helpful brains are thinking at every minute.

Resources such as Jon Kabat-Zinn (author) or practices such as guided imagery, visualization and mindfulness meditation provide helpful tips on letting go of harmful thoughts. When an unpleasant thought enters your mind, acknowledge it, and put it on a cloud to be taken away out of your head. Sometimes you need to imagine a very breezy day to carry out numerous unpleasant and unhelpful thoughts!

February 23, 2008 - 3:01pm
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