October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Susan G. Komen Denver Race for the Cure occurs the first Sunday in October each year. This year is especially significant for me, as it represents a major milestone for me – 10 years since my diagnosis in 2001 – a milestone I wasn’t sure I would reach when I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer at the age of 40.
It came as a real shock, given that I had my baseline mammogram the year before, which had not reported any issues. In addition, I had no contributing factors – other than being a woman – that would have put me at risk of Breast Cancer, particularly at such a young age. I had no family history, I exercised for more than an hour every day, I ate a balanced diet, and I had no health issues. In fact, it was only first discovered in an annual medical exam as a palpable (nickel sized and shaped) mass, and neither the Nurse Practitioner nor I were overly concerned about it at the time. I wasn’t actually encouraged to check it out immediately, but I decided that I should anyway, and scheduled a mammogram at the same place that did my baseline mammogram. That mammogram did not show any “interval change” from the baseline mammogram, but they too could feel the disk shaped mass, so they did an ultrasound. That too showed nothing. Again, I was not encouraged to pursue it further, but I called my Doctor’s office, and the nurse said I could see a surgeon for a biopsy. I was still not worried at all, but just didn’t want to ignore it. I saw the surgeon, who scheduled me for an excisional biopsy. That biopsy came back positive for Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma. Further pathology showed additional information about the characteristics of the tumor, and its spread, which helped direct the proper options for treatment.
One thing that hit home in this process is how random cancer really is. I was living under a false sense of security that if I did all the right things, and had no significant contributing factors or behaviors, I was at a near zero risk of Breast Cancer – it was not even a remote concern for me. I realized, after all I experienced and learned, that if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone at any time.
I am living proof that the messaging and awareness around Breast Cancer gets through – even if it is not at a conscious level. I am certain that I was as persistent as I was, and am alive today as a result of that persistence, because of the awareness that the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the Race for the Cure brought to me over the years, and continues to bring.