I'm 39 years old and am a mammography and x-ray technologist. I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year at the age of 38 (the doctor said I'd probably had it for a couple of years). In my mind, I fell into the "too young to have breast cancer" category.
I found a lump in my right breast one evening while lying in bed. I decided to just watch the lump, assuming it was a cyst because I was "too young" to have breast cancer. Basically, it came down to denial. I help women every day sift through the good news and the bad news, regardless of their age. But here I was, just "watching" my lump.
Then one day, a month or so later, as I was "watching" the lump, I noticed dimpling in a different area of the same breast. Fortunately, because I am a mammographer, I was able to have a mammogram that morning and a biopsy that afternoon. But even before getting the results, I knew, and so did my co-workers, that it was cancer. I will never forget the technologist's and radiologist's faces when the mass showed up on the ultrasound screen. My friend tried not to cry and my radiologist tried to hold his composure and remain professional.
The next day he confirmed that I had breast cancer. He let my husband and I sit in his office for as long as we wanted. My friend, who is a nurse, sat with me outside the hospital where we both work. She held my hand as we sat and talked. Soon my surgeon came down to discuss some of my options.
I had already decided on a mastectomy. I knew in my heart that I had at least two cancers in that breast and that they were ductal. Also, they were invasive cancers, and that told me the little guys were traveling and I did not want to take any chances.
On April 28, 2004, I had my right breast removed. Dr Lurie came in and told me that four out of nine lymph nodes were positive for cancer, and that there were actually three cancer sites in the breast. The next step was chemotherapy, and Dr Alali did the TAC chemo—four rounds of three drugs (I call them poisons) every 21 days. I just wanted to get it done.
My hair had always been my source of vanity—very thick and long, highlights, etc. Well, I lost my hair while my husband and I were visiting with my sister in Mendocino. The poor girl couldn't handle it, so we put lots of hairspray on what was left and put a hat on top of that. When we got home, I let the majority of it fall out, and then my husband shaved the few hairs that were left.
The chemo wasn't the greatest, but I did pretty well after the first treatment and after adjustments were made with the Benadryl. Dr. Alali and his staff were wonderful. Because I had three tumors and more than three lymph nodes were involved, I also had radiation treatments. I didn't have a problem with the radiation. I felt great, but the drive to Sacramento at 8 a.m. was rough! The staff at RAS (inside Mercy General) were absolutely the most amazing people I have ever come across. Even the girl that served me my "non-fat mocha with whip" was incredible.
I then had TRAM-flap reconstruction, which turned out well. I am still undergoing that and my next surgery will be in a month or so. This is a hard way to get a flat stomach!
I think the most amazing thing in my whole experience so far has been the support of co-workers, neighbors and friends—the best gift of all. I am back to work doing mammograms and diagnostics. I share my story with a few ladies—the ones I think want to hear it. It will be one year next month since my diagnosis, and I am happy to be alive and I realize that each day is a gift!
Dr Danette M Vercher