I've always been diligent about getting annual checkups and mammograms, but always with the mindset of "it won't happen to me." After all, I don't have a family history of breast cancer, and I eat right and exercise (sometimes).
In September of 2004, two friends and I challenged each other to begin exercising more, so we registered for the upcoming Komen Race for the Cure®. I was excited about the Race (I'd always thought about it, but never signed up), so I started walking every day to get in shape for the event. Something inside me kept telling me that this Race was very important.
When it came time for the Race, my two friends had to back out. I'm the type of person who won't even go to a movie alone, but this was something I felt I had to do. It's the biggest Komen Race held in North Dallas, and some 30,000 people were expected to participate. That alone was enough to intimidate me into staying home, but that voice continued to tell me it was an important thing for me to do.
I got up at 5:30 A.M. that Saturday morning, got dressed and went to the Dart Station to ride the train to the event. I kept thinking how proud I was and how brave I was to do this by myself (even though the train was packed with walkers headed to the Race). As I walked along the streets of North Dallas with (as it turned out) 40,000 other people, I was absolutely awestruck by the sight of it. That voice was still there telling me: "this is very important—look around—all of these people have been touched in some way by breast cancer. You need to be here right now!" I finished the Race with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat, truly humbled by the experience. I felt my life change that day, but it didn't become clear to me until a few weeks later why that day would be so significant.
I went for my annual checkup and mammogram just two weeks after the Race. My doctor's office called me a week later to tell me "the news." A microcalcification had been detected on my mammogram and a follow-up would be needed immediately. Everyone assured me that the odds were slim that it would be cancer, but a biopsy was necessary. As it turned out, it was cancer and surgery was needed. There were actually two tiny spots the size of a grain of sand—so small that they could not be felt in a physical examination. The cancer had been detected at stage 0 and would be removed through a lumpectomy, and followed by six and a half weeks of radiation therapy. My surgery was done on November 30 and my final radiation treatment was on February 23.
During those weeks, I continually reflected on my experience at the Race for the Cure® on that October Saturday. I drew from the knowledge that so many of the people I had seen that day had survived this disease, and so would I! I am so grateful that I listened to that voice that led me through that Race—it was my Race, and it could have taken such a drastic turn if I had not listened and acted.
My advice to every woman is to find that internal communicator that we all have—be it your faith or whatever source that drives you—and listen and act. I thought cancer couldn't happen to me, but it did. I do not know why I was so lucky to have found it so early, but I am happy to be among the survivors! I have an 11-year-old son who is the center of my world, and I intend to be around to watch him grow up.
Two people have told me that they recently had "suspicious" mammograms that required follow-up. Thankfully, they are fine. I am happy that the medical community is taking a very aggressive stance in wiping out breast cancer, thanks to organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure®.
Let's all take a stand: Do your part to raise awareness. Tell every woman you know to get her mammogram and participate in this fight!
"I'll do whatever it takes to keep fighting." - Kathleen