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Self-Exams and Why They're So Important

My personal story

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We've all heard about the importance of breast self-exams (BSEs), but I wanted to tell my personal story without citing facts and figures.  Eight years ago, at the ripe old age of 34, while performing a cursory exam in the shower, I found a lump.  Or I thought I did.  I poked and prodded it for a couple of days and had my husband feel it. 

"Just get it checked out.  It's probably nothing, but you'll feel better," he said.

So I went to the doctor, who, luckily, referred me for a mammogram.  So I was a little nervous, but not too.  I started to worry when the technician seemed concerned.  She took many more slides than the two per side usually taken.  She showed me the object of her concern:several tiny white dots on the x-ray.  She explained that these were microcalcifications; calcium deposits that fill in necrotic (dead) areas.

To make a long story short, about a week later I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and was scheduled for a surgical biopsy.  The surgeon cut out as much as he could.  The tumor was biopsied and found not to have clear margins, which means there was still some pesky cancer left behind.  I underwent a lumpectomy two weeks later.  The good news:  It was stage 1A, which means it was caught early; I had clear margins and no lymph node involvement.

Six weeks of radiation therapy and five years of Tamoxifen followed.  I'm now cancer free.

I owe my health to BSEs.  Since I was many years away from the suggested start of routine mammograms, my self-exam undoubtedly saved my life.  All of the technicians, doctors and nurses I encountered were surprised that it had been found at my age.  Many younger women go undiagnosed because they're considered too young to be at risk.  Because my cancer was caught early, I didn't need to go through chemotherapy and mastectomy.

I'm so thankful that I get to see my son grow up.  He was just 2 when I was diagnosed, and that is quite a heavy thing for a mom to go through.  I still remember how surreal it all seemed.  The day I got my diagnosis, we went searching for a Christmas tree, then to a little party that night.  I wanted to keep life as normal as possible, while walking around in a complete fog.

Anyway, to all the ladies out there, take your health into your own hands and do those self-exams.  You won't regret it.

4 comments so far...

  • I'm so glad you're okay, Miracle Mom! Younger women have a much harder time getting diagnosed. The fact that you were able to have a baby is really, truly a blessing for you. How wonderful.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by on 9th July 2008

  • Thanks so much for your article !

    A self breast exam in 2003 helped save my life as well !

    On 12/1/03, I was diagnosed with stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma! I went through chemo, had a lumpectomy and the setinal nodes removed under my right arm, followed by 6 weeks of radiation (34 treatments).

    Not only was surviviing the Cancer a miracle, but I was blessed with a baby girl 1/23/08, Kaleigh. With all the chemo and going into early menopause from the chemo (which reversed after 13 months) it was possible that I could not have children.

    Early Detection Saves Lives !

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Miracle Mom on 9th July 2008

  • You're welcome! The day after I wrote it, I got an email from a friend whose wife is stage 4 and is having a very hard time. It's a simple thing that can make a world of difference.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by on 20th June 2008

  • Wonderful story and great advice, Juliana. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Diane on 20th June 2008