Updated: Sep 18
What comes in fours?
Suits of cards (spade, heart, clover, diamonds), Seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall),
Siblings (separately or quadruplets), measurements (ounces, pounds, inches, feet), and more!
But cancer doesn’t usually affect one person four times! For me it did, but I'm still thankful this holiday! November 2016 was my fourth breast cancer diagnosis.
I began at age 35 with a baseline mammogram because my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was 37 my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and so I went for my mammogram. I had barely stepped out of the radiologist office when my mother looked at me and said, “That took too long, what’s wrong?!”
It began in 1995 when they saw “suspicious calcifications” and wanted additional testing.
After ultrasounds, stereotactic core biopsy (wire/needle guided without any anesthesia) and lumpectomy I was diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), the earliest form of breast cancer and contained in the mammary duct. After completing two surgeries to confirm all was removed and clean margins prevailed I thought I could move on and not worry about this until like my mother and aunt, I’m in my 70’s!
However in 1997 after receiving a mammogram every 6 months for surveillance, they discovered a ‘new’ suspicious calcification again. This early stage 0 DCIS cancer was made up of a new biology, not something left over. With another stereotactic core biopsy and again two surgeries for clean margins, all was removed.
From 39 to 47 years of age, I remained clean with mammograms and breast MRI's rotating every 6 months. In March of 2005 after my mammogram, I was once again scheduled for another biopsy. This time however the cancer was IDC (invasive ductal carcinoma) which means this new cancer was already outside the duct. Fortunately because of early detection, after testing we knew it had not reached my sentinel lymph node.
At this point in time, I received 6 weeks of radiation, began 5 years on Tamoxifen and learned about genetic testing. I discovered I carry the BRCA2 genetic mutation which puts me at a higher risk of developing breast cancer (along with ovarian, pancreatic and melanoma). Because of these findings I also had a full hysterectomy. I really thought at this point I was well ahead of any additional risks. I had eliminated most of the estrogen in my body (hysterectomy and on Tamoxifen) and hopefully destroyed any floating cells in the area with radiation.
I continued with every six month breast MRI and mammograms for surveillance only to be diagnosed one more time in November of 2016 with IDC. At 58 years of age, I knew what had to be done! I completed a double mastectomy (with reconstruction), a T&C chemotherapy regimen and continue to be treated with Arimidex.
You may ask why did I wait so long knowing I was at a high risk of recurrence of breast cancer as a carrier of the BRCA2 genetic mutation? First, I really believed I had done so much to reduce my risk of recurrence already! I’m fairly healthy otherwise, healthy weight, live a healthy lifestyle, exercise, make healthier diet choices, take supplements, etc., etc., AND I also felt my body has a difficult time destroying cancer cells and if I remove my breast, I won’t know where to look for it! So my surveillance was somewhat of a security blanket outside of the scanxiety twice a year!
I had shared my BRCA mutation findings with both my brothers and my sons along with our extended family members. My brother Harvey thought, “breast cancer, not something I really need to be concerned about”. Unfortunately he was wrong and was diagnosed in 2008 with male breast cancer and a year and a half later with prostate cancer. He too learned he carries the BRCA2 mutation.
I still believe my healthier lifestyle has spared me of a more aggressive cancer or being diagnosed even sooner. Learning that I carry the genetic mutation has provided me with diagnostic tests that have been a great help in early detection. I also continue to be watched by my oncologist for other risks with pancreatic scans, colonoscopies and visiting my dermatologist regularly. Being a carrier of a genetic mutation is not a death sentence! My mother lived to almost 95 and her sister to 102! This information has assisted my sons (and my grandchildren, 3 boys and 3 girls, when they are older) with important information and early surveillance as well. Hopefully as we get closer to the discovery of a breast cancer vaccine, they will be spared.
Please remember that a genetic mutation can be passed from a father or mother to a son or daughter! Learn about your family health history and if you think you're a candidate, please consider genetic testing, not only for yourself, but for your family. Early detection can help save lives! It saved mine!! Contact University of Pennsylvania's Basser Center or click to find a genetic counselor near you. There are many other resources available to assist and you can locate them here.
As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I remain thankful that I can share my story.
Please take this time with family and talk about your family health concerns. You may learn something new and you just might save someone else's life too!
Following Thanksgiving is Giving Tuesday, a day to show your appreciation for someone, a family, an organization, etc.
I am thankful "four" all who help HIS Breast Cancer Awareness educate and save lives. Without your help and sharing of information, we could not have accomplished so much.
As a cofounder of HIS Breast Cancer Awareness, we welcome your donation so we can continue to help educate and support other individuals and families. Your gift will be put to great use in bringing valuable information regarding male breast cancer awareness and education. Please consider to Donate here
Happy and Healthy Thanksgiving wishes to all
Editor; Vicki Singer Wolf, Cofounder of HIS Breast Cancer Awareness
Modeh Ani- מוֹדֶה אֲנִי , I Am Thankful