Where does one start when talking about being a survivor? Is it the first time you heard the word “cancer” or when you are a 15-plus-year survivor, like I am. I had been doing monthly self-breast exams ever since the information came out that women should be checking their breasts. My breasts were very fibrous and I never knew if I was feeling cysts or lumps, but got to know my breasts
In October 1994, I had my yearly mammogram which was negative. Three months later, on January 1, 1995, I discovered a lump in my lower right breast which felt different than other “lumps” I had felt in the past. I checked on a weekly basis and this lump never went away. It was small, pea sized and persistent. At the end of March I decided to have it checked. At my office visit I had to show the doctor where the lump was because it was very small. He ordered a needle biopsy that same day. I waited in the doctor’s office for a very long time before he came in and told me the cells were cancer. That was the last word I heard even though he was talking to me. The next day I had a surgical biopsy and the day afterwards talked with a plastic surgeon, oncologist and
I had to travel to each doctor’s office, as this was well before the Breast Center where you have a team of medical professionals and they come to you. At each visit I had to take off my shirt, be examined, put my shirt back on, leave that office and go to the next doctor which was extremely emotional. There was a lot of information given to me and I was overwhelmed as to what I should do.
The hardest part was telling the rest of my family. At that time my daughters were 17 and 14. My youngest daughter asked if I was going to die and I told her “Yes, eventually, but not real soon.” It was also hard on my mother who had breast cancer only two years before.
I decided to have bilateral mastectomies with reconstruction in April 1995. I did this because I have fibrous breast tissue and I worried that I would not be able to find a lump if it formed in the other breast. Because I had no lymph node involvement, I did not need chemo or radiation.
In July 1995, I joined a breast cancer support group at Gundersen and was with them until they disbanded. It was so good to be with others who had gone through a similar experience. So, when a Gundersen social worker helped create a new breast cancer support group, named Living in Pink, I was excited to join as a co-facilitator.
I have seen many, many women throughout the years and am glad they were able to share their experiences, give support and find the support they needed through their journey with breast cancer. Women of all ages have attended our support groups, some as young as 25, some as old as 86 (my mother). Our treatments may be different, but we all share the same diagnosis of breast cancer.