The Importance of Early Cancer Screening
I turned 40 in April of 2020. I scheduled my first annual mammogram for June, figuring I would check it off my to-do list and I’d be good to go for a year. Never did I imagine that two months later I would end up losing both my breasts to a mastectomy.
The initial scans identified two suspicious areas, leading to an extensive and complicated diagnostic workup and a series of opinions at two separate cancer centers. I was ultimately given three treatment options, each with its own advantages and disadvantages, and the decision was left up to me.
While I was incredibly fortunate and grateful that the cancer was caught early and my prognosis was very good, the choices I was faced with overwhelmed me. My professional background as a (retired) physician assistant gave me the necessary understanding of the statistics, long term outcomes, and pros and cons of each treatment option, but no amount of medical training prepared me to make such a major personal decision. My mind raced constantly as I tried to weigh my opportunities for long term survival against my emotional wellbeing. As I tearfully poured out my concerns to a friend one day, she encouraged me to call Sharsheret. I knew about Sharsheret, but until I became a breast cancer patient, I had no idea of the scope of the services they offered. From my talks with a social worker, to the peer support network, the Busy Box sent to my children, and the wide variety of programming, I quickly became aware of how invaluable Sharsheret’s breast cancer support group and help is for me and my family.
As my diagnosis became more public, it became apparent how shocked many people were by my situation. Many friends have told me that because of my story, they scheduled baseline mammograms that they had been putting off for years. A relative confided in me that she hadn’t had a mammogram in eight years because she had believed that the risk of radiation from the imaging was worse than the risk of cancer. Another woman said that despite an extensive family history of breast and ovarian cancer, she had been under the mistaken impression that she bore no personal cancer risk because her own mother had tested negative for BRCA. Countless friends and acquaintances have reached out to me to thank me for being so open about my experience. I am glad for the opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of early screening. I tell them that early screening saved my life. If my story helps save even one more, it was worth it.