A Mammogram Saved My Life

I am that woman.

A suspect mammogram led to a biopsy nine years ago, then a lumpectomy, a cancer diagnosis, radiation and hormone therapy.

Turned out the cancer was really pre-cancer, ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS), which, today, is starting to be treated very differently.  But my cancer – or precancer, as it’s now being called – was high-grade, which means my cells spent a distressing week and a half in the pathology lab where medical professionals carefully and deliberately weighed and studied and pored over them to make absolutely certain mine wasn’t, in the end, a form of invasive cancer.

Fortunately, for me, they turned out to be right, but when the disease returned again two years later, even though this time the abnormal cells were low-grade (and most likely never progress to anything that would kill me), it was treated as though it were invasive cancer and I underwent the surgery that all women dread.

Imagine my surprise, last year, when doctors came out on the side now of doing little or nothing about DCIS.  It all resurfaced for me with this ground-breaking new study that women don’t need mammograms.

Say what?  I’m the woman who’s in both the camps.  I was both over-diagnosed and over-treated, because of an abnormal mammogram.  But I am also here because of that mammogram.

Chances are, my non-invasive cancer was on the brink of becoming invasive.  Had I just gone into the “watchful waiting” position, which would probably be recommended today, I very well might be facing Stage II or III cancer.  Or dead.  (As my surgeon’s physician’s assistant so kindly told me, “Your body knows how to make cancer.”)

All of which is to say, I was both over-treated – and saved – by a mammogram.  I don’t know how doctors can recommend women just don’t have them.  True, they’re suggesting women who have had normal ones for 10 or 15 years now forego them.  But the reality is, that was me.

There’s been some very encouraging news about the development of tests that can tell whether your cancer is one that will progress and how advanced it might become, to make it easier for us to decide what to do.  And almost 50% of DCIS cases do go on to become invasive cancer (hence, the over-treatment). 

I’ve had to think, would I do it differently, knowing what I know now (and my oncologist telling me last year I’m not a cancer survivor)?  Yes, I would have stayed the course.  I had a three-year-old the first time I was diagnosed with cancer, and I wanted to live.  The second time, I just wanted to see him graduate from high school.   And here I am, today, with my son turning 13 in June.  For me, having a mammogram is a no-brainer.


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