What You Need to Know about Early Detection
There has been so much controversy over mammograms. Whatever your beliefs, if you can detect breast cancer early, you greatly increase your chances of survival! Many people believe that women do not need mammograms, and that having them will expose us to unknown (radiation?). Then there is the camp that believes a woman should only have one every 5 years. Then there is the camp that believes women over the age of 50 should have one every other year. Personally, I have always done what my doctor suggested. I have had a mammogram every other year since I turned 50. Time before last I did let it go for 2 years, but we had a lot going on in our lives at the time and I was doing self breast exams, so I was not too worried about skipping that one year. I did have a little voice inside constantly reminding me that I needed to take care of this. But then I got that one and it was normal. Whew! Thank Goodness!
I do have to say that I never REALLY worried about breast cancer. No one in my family had ever had breast cancer. Most of my female relatives were small breasted. I was small breasted. I always thought women with large breasts were much more susceptible to breast cancer. I definitely was not worried about genes. I had many mammograms over the years, and had never had a problem. The last two mammograms they did shoot extra pictures, but once reviewed, they were deemed normal. So I had absolutely no reason to even think that I would ever develop breast cancer. As I had stated earlier, I also tried to distance myself from breast cancer. Several women I knew had battled breast cancer. All of them were very large breasted. I was not really close with any of them, so I was not really involved in their journey. My sister was a flight attendant. Several women she had flown with developed breast cancer. One of them died from it. But that was 20 years ago. I knew great strides had been made in breast cancer as I heard on the news. But I did not need to pay attention. There was no reason for me to even worry about this disease. I would never get breast cancer in a million years!! I had plenty to worry about, but breast cancer? Nah!
I could not have been more wrong! As you read through my story, you will learn that ANY WOMAN can develop breast cancer. Unfortunately, doctors still do not know why any of us get breast cancer. They do not know who will get it, or what kind any of us will get. There is no blood test or any other test to pre-determine who will get it. This is why it is so very important to do self breast exams every time you take a shower. Let me backtrack here just a minute. If you are susceptible to breast cancer, meaning if two or more women in your family have had cancer, not just breast cancer, then your risk is higher. Also, there are tests that can be performed to determine if you are at risk for breast cancer. These tests can determine if you have the BRACA genes, 1 & 2. You can also get genetic counseling, which can determine if you have genes that increase your risk of breast cancer or any other cancer. That is the good news. The bad news is that most people cannot get these tests UNTIL AFTER they have been diagnosed with some kind of cancer. Also, there are hoops you have to jump through due to all the rules and regulations as to whether you qualify for the tests or genetic counseling.
I had a very difficult time getting the testing, EVEN AFTER I WAS DIAGNOSED! Because I was on Social Security Disability, I was told that Medicare would not pay for the tests because: #1) I was over the age of 60 (actually I was 60 1/2 years old, but still over age of 60 according to their guidelines) and #2) I had no first line relatives that had had any kind of cancer. I was absolutely dumbfounded by this and just could not understand what was happening. Initially, I was just too sick to even try to fight this decision. However, later on, after I finished chemotherapy, I decided to try again to get the tests. I ran into the same exact problem. This time, I put up a fight. I started calling relatives. I learned that my sister, whom I am estranged from, had developed breast cancer 6 months before I did! I also found out that my aunt on my mother’s side had ovarian cancer. (She had already passed away.) So I went back to Medicare with this new knowledge in hand, and I was finally approved to get the genetic testing. The purpose of the testing was to find out if I had the Braca 1 and Braca 2 genes. I learned that my sister did not have the genes, but there was still a 50% chance that I could have the genes.
When I got the results back, I was scared to death! I was told to go into the office to get the results. I feared the worst. BUT—-I was elated to learn that I did not carry the genes! That was 1 point for me!! YEAH! This alleviated a lot of stress I had been carrying. If I had carried the genes, my chances of getting breast cancer again would have been much higher. That risk could have been as high as 80%! Even though I do not carry the genes, I can still have a re-occurrance of breast cancer. But my risk is not as great. Now my risk is about 25%. That is a huge difference, but I still worry about it every single day.
If you have ever experienced any of this, I would love to hear from you! If you have any questions, or if I can help you in any way, please reach out and leave a comment below.