When I was 32, I found a lump in my right breast. I remember exactly where I was at that moment. I was on my couch; not sure how or why my hand brushed against my breast but it did and once I felt it I couldn’t stop going back to it. I was instantly nauseous; my heart was beating out of my chest & my mind racing to places that scared the hell out of me. My sister is a doctor, so I immediately called her crying hysterically about this lump. She assured me it was probably just a cyst, but nonetheless it needed to be checked out. I made an appointment with my primary care physician for the next day. He did an exam of my breasts and felt the same way my sister did, it was probably just a cyst, but he wanted me to go for a diagnostic mammogram. Anyone that has had breast-related health issues is very familiar with what a diagnostic mammogram means; basically it means the radiologist will read it immediately so you can go home with an answer. They did the mammogram and decided I also needed an ultrasound. After what seemed like forever, I was told it was just a cyst, and I had nothing to worry about. Thank sweet baby Jesus was my first thought. I was ready to put all of this behind me and go back in 8 years for my next mammogram.
I had a follow up with my primary about a week later and he said, “I would like you to see a breast surgeon”. “WHAT? WHY? It’s a cyst”, I said extremely scared. He went on to tell me that sometimes it’s best to have a specialist involved with these kinds of things. Little did I know at that time that this would eventually save my life.
So, I went to Dr. Barbara Krueger’s office, who I now call my guardian angel. I remember sitting in her office for our first visit and my mammogram results were up on the screen. I asked her “why is it all white?” That was the first time I heard the term “dense breasts”. She immediately did an ultrasound on both my breasts and found not only do I have dense breasts, but I have a lot of fibroid tumors so she would like to monitor me from now on. She told me that since I have both of these things going on, it’s pretty easy for cancer to hide therefore it’s important for me to stay on top of my annual screenings. So, that’s what I did, every year I went for a mammogram and then to her office for an ultrasound.
December 2012 (I was now 36) was no different; this was my 4th year doing it; I got my “normal” mammogram results in October of that year. In fact, they told me I didn’t have to come back for another four years; I obviously knew my doctor would not allow that.
So, she started doing the ultrasound. Something was different this time, she was taking more pictures. She had a concerned look on her face. When I’m nervous, I talk, so that’s what I did, I talked, and talked and then talked some more. She was comparing the pictures from my last ultrasound to the current one. She asked if my period was due and I said yes, she said that’s probably why everything seems a bit bigger, but that she would like me to get an MRI to be safe.Fear doesn’t begin to describe what I was feeling. She, of course, told me that she was being cautious but thought it was a good idea to get it done. This was a Monday, by Wednesday I was in for the MRI; by Wednesday night I knew that results were abnormal. On Thursday, I was in for the biopsy. The whole time I’m being assured by the radiologist that Dr. Krueger is just being hyper-cautious, and there is only one suspicious area in my left breast on my chest wall that they would like to biopsy. My life changed on Christmas Eve 2012. That morning at 9:30am, my sister called (side-note, since my sister is a doctor at that same hospital, I signed permission that she could get the results because if I was going to hear bad news I wanted it to come from my sister) and told me the devastating news through tears that I had breast cancer.
My world stopped at that moment. I sat in bed and just cried, with my husband by my side assuring me I was going to be fine. It was Christmas Eve, I was supposed to be getting ready to go to my brothers and celebrate the holiday with my family, but I had this whole cancer diagnosis thing going on. Not only did I just get this life changing news, but I was also suffering from the flu. Obviously it had no relation to the cancer, but since I felt sick, it intensified everything by 100%. I literally stayed in my bed for 6 hours straight, just crying until there were no tears left & then I cried some more. I made the decision to go to my brothers for the holiday. My only stipulation was nobody was allowed to speak of the “C” word, and I was going to be wearing sweats and my hair was going to be in a ball on top of my head. I honestly don’t have much memory of that day; my mind was obviously somewhere else. I will say I’m happy I went, I’m happy I got out of bed, and I’m happy I was able to part of my niece, and nephews holiday.
I often hear people say that I was “brave since day one.” But I wouldn’t say that. Someone who is “brave” is someone who is ready to face and endure danger or pain by choice. This is not something I chose. Nobody chooses this.
I did and continued to do what I have to do to not let the disease win. I felt strength from within from day one–but also fear. I never knew I could feel both at the same time. Of course, the fear came from the unknown. It came from asking questions like: Will I die? Will I ever have children? Has it spread? Will I have to have chemo and a mastectomy? My strength came from knowing that everything was going to be ok. That is what faith is to me, knowing things will go wrong in your life but in the end it will all work out. It doesn’t matter who or what you believe in, faith is having complete trust or confidence in someone or something, which I think everyone has the capability to relate to.
I made a personal choice to never say, “Why me?” Instead, I said, “Why not?”. What makes me more special than the next person? None of us are exempt. From the beginning of my journey, I decided to share my experience on Facebook with my friends and family with the hope that my story would help just one girl.
My message is simple, early detection in many cases can literally be the difference between life and death. Don’t assume this only happens to women over 40 or that it has to run in someone’s family to get it. Remember, it has to start with someone for it to “run in your family”, nobody is exempt. Don’t let fear or misinformation prevent you from getting screened.
～ Jeannine Canino Bieda