February 11, 2022
Jennifer’s doctor recommended a mammogram when she turned 40, thereby allowing for a stage 1 cancer to be detected.
On January 31, 2019, I heard my doctor say, “you have breast cancer”. Say what?
My eyes were wide open and filling with tears. This couldn’t be true. I had recently turned 40 and was focused on my health and wellbeing. I had lost 50lbs and was feeling the best I had in years. Getting the news of a breast cancer diagnosis knocked me the core. What I know now is those life changing words from my doctor was only the first stage of this journey.
Let’s rewind to the time before I was diagnosed. It was the early fall of 2018, a month after turning 40, and I went to my doctor to have my PAP test, breast exam, and annual blood work. At this appointment, my doctor recommended a screening mammogram. In British Columbia, after the age of 40, women can book a mammogram themselves, without the referral of their doctor. She suggested it would be good to have a baseline for future screenings. A recent program to notify a woman of her breast density would also be offered.
I had a busy fall season I and waited until December to call for my mammogram appointment. My appointment was January 14, 2019. It was an easy appointment and the technician explained everything as we went along. I left the building feeling accomplished for this piece of “adulting”.
The next day, I received a call that there was further investigation required from the mammography images. I was very fortunate to get in for a follow up mammogram and ultrasound the next day. This appointment would be at the diagnostic section of the same hospital where I went for the screening mammogram.
After the mammogram, I had the ultrasound. It was during the ultrasound that the technician focused her attention on one spot. The wand moving over and over the same spot. After a few minutes, she asked me to stay in position and said the Radiologist would come in. After the Radiologist came in, the suggestion to me was to have a biopsy performed. There was something, small, but something on the images that needed further investigation.
I waited 12 days for my biopsy. To this point, I was still not terribly nervous. My mom herself had a biopsy in her early 40s, without issue. During the wait for the biopsy, I received my letter from screening mammography notifying me that I needed further investigation but also my breast density level. I have C density, based on a A-D scale.
Biopsy day was Monday, January 28 and the procedure went smoothly. A little tenderness was all I had for the next few days.
My doctor called me on Wednesday, and I went to see her the next day. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 ER/PR+ HER- IDC and DCIS breast cancer 17 days after my screening mammogram. A mammogram that was purely to get a baseline. I had zero breast issues that urged me to go.
If I had waited for a mammogram, eventually I would have felt a lump, a lump that would have been much larger than the tumour that measured about the size of a pencil eraser, located under my right nipple.
Three weeks later I underwent a sentinel node wire led lumpectomy. Two months later I completed 20 rounds of radiation at BC Cancer Agency.
I am currently on hormone therapy, a drug regime that reduces the ER/PR hormone levels in my body. This therapy, to reduce the chance of recurrence, is taken for 5 years.
There are several side effects to this therapy, and I see other medical specialists and health practitioners to help me in this journey.
I feel very lucky and grateful. I am firm believer that the screening mammography program saved my life. At age 40, I was diagnosed with an early-stage breast cancer with many successful treatment options.
I am able to tell my story and encourage other women, in their 40s to go get a mammogram. I do not have an extroverted personality, but I am passionate about sharing my story.
If you are a woman in her 40s in BC, PEI, or Nova Scotia, please call and make a mammogram appointment. If you live in a province where you still need a doctor referral in your 40s, and your doctor doesn’t believe a mammogram is necessary, maybe my story will help encourage them.
It just might save your life too. Our note: Jennifer, we are so glad you got screened at 40. Our hope is that more women will do so. Thank you for the inspiration and for the willingness to share your story for the benefit of others.