Early testing: A real lifesaver

For years, my concerns about breast cancer were casually dismissed. Several doctors told me that my risk was likely no greater than that of the average woman. I didn’t have that worrisome first-degree relative, such as a mother or sister, with breast cancer.

The problem with that, of course, is that we inherit genes from both our mothers and our fathers. And fathers are just as likely to pass along a BRCA mutation. All it takes is one bad copy from a parent for you to inherit a potential world of hurt.

Of course, I didn’t know about my BRCA2 status until I was already diagnosed with breast cancer. A symptomatic hemorrhagic cyst had brought me to my ob-gyn, who recommended a baseline mammogram and genetic testing after reviewing my family history. If it hadn’t been for those tests, who knows how long it would have taken for this cancer to announce its presence. I never had a lump — just tiny specks on a mammogram called “microcalcifications.”

Most professional organizations recommend yearly clinical breast exams and annual breast screening with mammogram starting at age 40 for women with an average risk of breast cancer. But many insurance companies will pay for a baseline mammogram at age 35 (and some have no minimum age). It’s also a great thing for radiologists to have on hand when comparing subsequent mammograms —it can literally be a lifesaver.

My mammogram picked up on the microcalcifications, which led to a breast ultrasound, which found the invasive mass. Three biopsies gave me my diagnosis.

The silver lining in all of this has been that I’ve had several of my friends tell me that they scheduled long-overdue mammograms or underwent genetic testing because their family histories warranted it. That’s all I ever wanted in going public with my story — to make sure we women, we mothers who look after everyone else first, take care of ourselves to ensure we’re around for a long, long time.