A lot of confusion and misguidance still surrounds breast cancer screenings...especially for young women under 40. Thankfully, I was aware that within my small family, there was a history of breast and ovarian cancer...and I was educated "enough" to request a baseline mammogram at the age of 35. My doctors agreed that annual mammograms and self breast exams were smart surveillance options for me. However, when I inquired about the screening for BRCA, they shrugged off my concern...citing that (1) my three female relatives were all over the age of 50 when they were diagnosed, (2) they were on my father's side of the family, and (3) I was not an Ashkenazi Jew...therefore, the odds of me being a mutation carrier were "slim to none" and "not to worry".
Then I found the lump. None of the medical professionals seemed to be alarmed...after all, upon physical examination and during the diagnostic, digital mammogram and follow up ultrasound...I was told over and over that it did not "look like or feel like cancer". Of course, now I know that many familial breast cancer tumors in fact, do not look or feel like cancer...and many young patients are sent home to "keep an eye on it and come back in 6 months". Well...in the case of aggressive, hereditary cancers...a 6 month "watch" could mean a death sentence.
I owe my survival to the knowledgeable Radiologist who knew to ask my family history, and understood the seriousness of having such a pedigree. When I told him, he was suddenly extremely concerned by the (just-a-second-ago, not-so-sinister-looking) image he saw on the screen, and he immediately ordered a core biopsy. Soon thereafter, I was told that I had a rare and aggressive subtype of invasive breast cancer, and I was (finally) rushed in to testing for the BRCA1 gene mutation. I tested positive.
I was 39 years old with a prophylactic double mastectomy, reconstruction, 4 rounds of chemo, multiple scans, tests and procedures, and a prophylactic complete hysterectomy to look forward to. Needless to say, 2010 was a rough year.
It was a Godsend to have been lucky enough to have such an educated and informed Radiologist. I dare not think of the horrifying consequences had he not been there that fateful day. And, though I was quite relieved that "we" had caught the cancer early, I was frustrated that my doctors had allowed me to get to this point. I had been trying my best to do all the right things and be proactive, but my medical team wasn't whole-heartedly "in the game". They had let me down because they didn't know what to look out for...Hell...I didn't know either.
And that's where FORCE comes in. I wish I had known about them earlier...then I might be sitting here today as a "Previvor" instead of as a cancer patient and a "Survivor" who...every single day...is terrified of a recurrance or a metastasis.
FORCE is the "only national nonprofit organization devoted to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer". Because of their efforts, much needed attention is being focused on this population group...a group to which millions don't even know they belong. There are preventative measures and special screening techniques that can save many, many lives. Patients and doctors must be made aware of the deadly consequences of ignoring the specific needs of this population group.
Where no other organization has concentrated such an effort to educate and promote "previvorship", or fund research for specific, targeted therapies for the aggressive hereditary cancers that do not respond to traditional, main stream cancer treatments...FORCE has stepped up, and they will be able to continue to save more lives with our help.
No amount of money is too small to help. And if your funds are tight and you're unable to donate, you can still educate...
...please, please, please educate yourself and everyone you care about.