Often I have flashbacks about my cancer. It has been 15 years since my diagnosis and I still hold my breath after each mammogram – until I get a clean bill of health. I did get a phone call last year after my mammogram and had to return for an ultrasound. I did not become alarmed but I would be lying if I said my stomach did not do a topsy-turvy in me. Thank God it was negative.
Too often I hear comments from women over 40 who have never had a mammogram. ‘Why?’ I ask. Their responses often leave me dumbfounded. Comments, such as “It doesn’t run in my family,” “I don’t have time,” “I’m scared they might find something” to “I hear it’s too painful.”
I never skipped a yearly mammogram since age 40. In 2000 I was so busy and tired of getting my, to put it bluntly, boobs squashed. I told myself, “I am always fine, my tests are always negative.” I skipped it that year.
I woke several months later and noticed an indentation on my right breast. I took it as a sign of aging and jokingly made a crack that my boob was deflating because I was getting old. My neighbor insisted I get it checked and so I did.
Almost immediately I was having a mammogram done, then an ultrasound. Afterwards I was told to sit in the doctor’s office. At this point I knew something was wrong. The doctor walked in and politely yet bluntly told me I had breast cancer. The only response that came out of my mouth was, “Where do we go from here?”
Things moved so fast I felt my head spinning. Two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation then follow-ups for years to come. I still get 65+ blood tests done every six months and see my oncologist. I am monitored closely for my monoclonal gammopathy.
My life is filled with joy, love, friends, decent health, and a lot of blessings. I am still fully dedicated to the Mesquite Cancer HELP Society making sure our services are immediately available to those who need us. I have had to slow down considerably, but the cancer society will be there as long as we continue to get the spectacular support from so many wonderful people and businesses.
To the ladies I say, “Ladies, please do not ignore your health – get that mammogram. The discomfort only lasts a couple of minutes and could mean the difference between early detection or something much more serious.”
Breast cancer affects men too; they should also check for any unusual changes. Sometimes lumps are not obvious as was the case with me. There are numerous types of breast cancer; Ductal, Intra-ductal, Inflammatory, Lobular, and other rare breast cancers. Awareness is crucial and does not cost you a cent.
Call or come by the MCHS office at 150 N. Yucca St. #36 for specific literature on breast cancers types. Detailed information on all cancers is also available.
Breast Cancer Types
Ductal Carcinoma in Situ: Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS; also known as intra-ductal carcinoma) is considered non-invasive or pre-invasive breast cancer. DCIS means that cells that lined the ducts have changed to look like cancer cells. The difference between DCIS and invasive cancer is that the cells have not spread (invaded) through the walls of the ducts into the diagnosed at this early stage of breast cancer can be cured.
Invasive Ductal Carcinoma: This is the most common type of breast cancer. Invasive (or infiltrating) ductal carcinoma (IDC) starts in a milk duct of the breast, breaks through the wall of the duct, and grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. At this point, it may be able to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system and bloodstream. About 8 of 10 invasive breast cancers are infiltrating ductal carcinomas.
Invasive Lobular Carcinoma: Invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) starts in the milk-producing glands (lobules). Like IDC, it can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. About 1 in 10 invasive breast cancers is an ILC. Invasive lobular carcinoma may be harder to detect by a mammogram than invasive ductal carcinoma.
Less common types of breast cancer: Inflammatory Breast Cancer
This type of invasive breast cancer accounts for about 1% to 3% of all breast cancers. Usually there is no single lump or tumor. Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) makes the skin on the breast look red and feel warm. It also may give the breast skin a thick, pitted appearance that looks a lot like an orange peel. Doctors now know that these changes are not caused by inflammation or infection, but by cancer cells blocking lymph vessels in the skin. The breast may become larger or firmer, tender, or itchy.
In its early stages, inflammatory breast cancer is often mistaken for an infection in the breast (called mastitis) and treated as an infection with antibiotics. If symptoms are caused by cancer, they will not improve, and a biopsy will find cancer cells. Because there is no actual lump, it might not show up on a mammogram, which can make it even harder to find it early. This breast cancer tends to have a higher chance of spreading and a worse outlook (prognosis) than typical invasive ductal or lobular cancer.
Paget Disease of the Nipple: This type of breast cancer starts in the breast ducts and spreads to the skin of the nipple and then to the areola (the dark circle around the nipple). It is rare, accounting for about 1% of all cases of breast cancer. The skin of the nipple and areola often appears crusted, scaly, and red, with areas of bleeding or oozing. A woman may notice burning or itching. Paget is almost always associated with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) or infiltrating ductal carcinoma.
Treatment often requires mastectomy. If no lump can be felt in the breast tissue, and the biopsy shows DCIS but no invasive cancer, the outlook (prognosis) is excellent. If invasive cancer is present, the prognosis is not as good, and the cancer will need to be staged and treated like any other invasive cancer.
Resource: ACS through Mesquite Cancer HELP Society