Life Interrupted – Again

A Sister’s Call to Arms in honor of Olivia Newton-John

 

In 2014, during my retirement flight physical/outgoing mammogram, I was found to have DCIS – Ductal Carcinoma In Situ.  DCIS is the presence of abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast.  DCIS is considered the earliest form of breast cancer. DCIS is noninvasive, meaning it hasn’t spread out of the milk duct to invade other parts of the breast.  Then, it was in my left breast.  It was a stage zero, non-invasive cancer that could’ve led to invasive cancer if not removed.  So, off I went on retirement with a lumpectomy, followed by 6 weeks of recovery, 8 weeks of radiation and then 6 years of Tamoxifen.  I didn’t like Tamoxifen.

I’ve been cancer free for 7 and ½ years until now……after this latest mammogram and a stereotactic breast biopsy last week, I have DCIS in my right breast.  I think it’s considered a new case rather than a relapse.  Looks much like the same so far and I’m expecting a lumpectomy with radiation and then some kind of medicine after.  Since my last life interruption, I’ve noticed several differences.

First the mammogram equipment is SO much better.  Although study after study shows that detecting breast cancer early can dramatically improve the chance of survival, as many as 30% of women in the U.S. still skip screenings. Why? Because women are scared of the examination, the pain they may feel and of the results. And although I don’t think I had it, there’s a new mammography system that’s “engineered by women for women” which may further change the way mammograms are performed. The Senographe Pristina has features that enhance patient comfort and control, including rounded corners, comfortable armrests instead of handgrips and a remote control that allows patients to control their own breast compression under the supervision of a technician.

My mammogram this time was fast and painless.  Done in under 20 mins total at the hospital.  Even my biopsy was quicker than last time.

And the imaging is light years better thanks to 3D Imaging.  This breakthrough in technology, available in hospitals across the country, is helping to detect cancers earlier with a lower percentage of false positives. The reduction in false positives has resulted in fewer biopsies for women who actually don’t need them.  According to the American Cancer Society, detecting breast cancer early is one of the most important strategies for preventing deaths.

I could clearly see the DCIS microcalcifications on the images this time.  And now I understand, there are alternatives to Tamoxifen.  I will have to do some homework but I’m encouraged there are other medicines than Tamoxifen.

Breast cancer detection is rapidly evolving. The once-dreaded and painful mammogram is being replaced with more comfortable and accurate procedures, and new technology is helping women take control of their own breast health.

I pride myself an optimist so there’s always a silver lining somewhere.  For me, I beat it before, I’ll beat it again.  They found it early – again.  I’m blessed and grateful.  My breasts will be symmetrical again with the same number of scars and I’ll have matching tattoos on each side of my body.  ?

This time, my children are older and I’m supported by family, including a Physician’s Assistant in the same town.

Since my last life interruption, I’ve had a number of friends and acquaintances diagnosed with varying degrees of cancer discovered during preventative testing.  Mammography, pap smears and colonoscopies.  They’re all survivors today.

On the other hand, I have a couple of very good friends who did not do preventative testing and are no longer with us on Earth.  One of them is a dear childhood and lifelong friend, who refused to get a mammogram or see a gynecologist for fear of the results.  She wasn’t married and didn’t have children.  I begged her to go and even offered to go up to NYC to take her personally after a liquid lunch of courage.  She was 56 and had never had any baseline testing.  She was adamant until the end.  She died an awful death in her home from ovarian cancer.

Knowing what I know about the procedures today, I thought I’d share.  They are easy, non-painful and non-invasive.  An easy in and easy out set of procedures.

My call to arms – Sisters, PLEASE get your mammograms, get your Pap Smears, get your colonoscopies!  Don’t blow off your procedures. If you want me to go with you, I’m happy to – any time.  It’s better to know and respond than to not know and find out before it’s too late.

RIP ONJ!  Thanks for the good fight.

With love, Tracy Barkhimer

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