My “Story” and why this movement is important… I am fighting for women to understand that not all breast tissue is alike. If you have Dense Breast Tissue, you need to ask more questions and get your annual mammogram along with an additional screening designed for Dense Breast Tissue.
In December 2010, I had a mammogram as part of my 40-year-old preventative screening. It was clear. At that time, I had been told I had Dense Breast Tissue, which makes reading a standard mammogram more difficult, and was given a hand-held ultrasound examination. Again, I was given the “all clear” message.
September 2011, I needed to complete two points for my workplace wellness program. For these points, I opted for a new automated breast screening exam designed for Dense Breast Tissue. I had no worry or concern, and this seemed to be the best option for completing my final two points.
An automated whole-breast ultrasound has no radiation exposure and no uncomfortable squishing like a mammogram. The procedure was easy. The radiologist reviewed it immediately and told me that I had six areas, three on the right and three on the left that needed a closer look. She assured me that it was probably not a big deal as the ultrasound often identifies little details that turn out to be nothing, so I left the appointment without much concern.
As a precaution, I followed up with a diagnostic mammogram and a hand-held diagnostic ultrasound exam. The radiologist reviewed the scans and told me that all the areas looked normal except for one spot on my left breast. The spot on my left breast still could not be seen by the mammogram but was detected with ultrasound. She recommended I have a biopsy to rule out any concerns. GULP! This news freaked me out to say the least.
On November 6, I had my biopsy. The procedure was not too painful. The doctor said the spot was deep in the outer part of my left breast, nearly under my arm. They anticipated having the results back in about 2 days.
On November 8, my surgeon called me at 8:30 in the evening. He calmly told me that the biopsy confirmed that I had breast cancer. Words you never think you will hear. He proceeded to say it appears to be diagnosed as Triple Negative Metastatic Carcinoma. There was some uncertainty regarding the biopsy, questioning if it was done on a tumor or a lymph node. This potentially created a big concern. If the biopsy was done on a lymph node then the question remained, where the tumor is and cancer in a lymph node is considered metastasized and this with Triple Negative seems a pretty poor prognosis. Because of these concerns I had to have an MRI and PET SCAN to find the tumor (no tumor could be found). So, I had a second opinion at Johns Hopkins, the diagnosis remained the same.
My surgeon and I decided to be aggressive since I appeared to have aggressive cancer. I chose to have a radical modified mastectomy. If there could be a silver lining it was that the surgery brought a new diagnosis. A biopsy takes such a small amount of tissue that when the entire breast was scrutinized by pathology the new diagnosis was determined as Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Triple Negative Grade 3 Stage 2. This was good news! Although Triple Negative is a very aggressive cancer and has a high chance of recurrence, having a tumor and not having a metastatic cancer was such a better outcome. In 2012, I had multiple surgeries and 5 months of ACT chemo.
Sadly my story is not unique. I was fortunate enough, by chance, to have additional ultrasound imaging for no other reason than to complete points for my workplace wellness program. I am convinced my aggressive cancer would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the additional ultrasound examination.