Tag Archives: Breast

Elizabeth Hurley opens up about her fight to end breast cancer: 'Breast cancer doesn't discriminate'

Elizabeth Hurley opens up about her fight to end breast cancer: 'Breast cancer doesn't discriminate'Elizabeth Hurley is opening up about her decades-long mission to find a cure for breast cancer.

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I Had No Clue Men Could Get Breast Cancer—Until I Was Diagnosed

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In 2013, I had a CT scan after seeing a couple of specialists about a dry cough. When I went back to the doctor’s office for the results, the cough was gone, so I figured there wasn’t much to say. I stood up to leave, and the doctor told me to sit down. “You don’t hear a doctor say this often,” he told me. “You have a lump in your right breast. We can watch it for six months.”

I looked at him like a deer in headlights. “What are we watching for?” That’s how naive I was. He told me it could be malignant. “Malignant—like cancer?”

“Yes, men get breast cancer,” he said. I had no clue. I had never heard of that in my life.

Only one man in 1,000 will get breast cancer in his lifetime. So I figured I had at least a 99% chance that it wasn’t cancer! Still, I didn’t want to wait six months. I knew I couldn’t be at peace knowing cancer was a possibility. I chatted with my primary care doctor, also a good friend, who said he wouldn’t be too concerned, but that if I was concerned we should do a biopsy. The biopsy came back malignant.

RELATED: 8 Things You Need to Know About Breast Cancer in Men

I live not far from Houston, so I went to MD Anderson [Cancer Center] for care. I figured since male breast cancer is rare, I wanted to be treated at a place that dealt with cancer all the time. They did genetic testing that showed I did not have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, which increase breast cancer risk.

My mother had breast cancer, but because I was negative for those mutations, the doctors thought my DNA just decided to go haywire. Another test showed I only had about an 8% chance of recurrence. But there aren’t many treatment options for men other than mastectomy, since we don’t have much breast tissue. 

My wife was very concerned—like any wife would be, I think—but she was making nervous chatter when we talked to my surgeon. She blurted out, “Well, my husband’s talked about reconstruction, but he can’t decide if he wants to be a big B or a small C!” She never says stuff like that! We had a good laugh about that. We maintained that sense of levity; we knew we still needed to be looking at things from a positive perspective.

The mastectomy and recovery went well, and afterward I took tamoxifen, a type of hormone therapy that lowers the chance of breast cancer recurrence. (At least it does in women—I'm being treated with medicine that's only been tested in women). I didn’t need any radiation or chemotherapy, so I called myself “one and done” and thought that was the end of it.

But in August 2015, I had a chance to appear in a male breast cancer documentary. I was asked to take off my shirt and show what I looked like as a man with a mastectomy scar. I put my hand on the scar, and my fingertips touched a lump. I froze inside. I managed to keep my facial expression benign, but it went right to my head. Am I less afraid or more afraid, given that I know more than I did two years ago?

I went back to my care team, and I needed surgery again. It tore me up that I had to tell my wife, my daughters, and my grandkids that I had cancer again. They lived through it the first time with me, so it was gut-wrenching. Because the tamoxifen probably didn’t do the job for me, I did 33 days of radiation therapy. I finished radiation in December 2015.

I have been the recipient of a pretty life-changing diagnosis, but I’ve decided that I’m going to help other people because of it. I started volunteering on committees at MD Anderson to improve the patient experience, and I have written MD Anderson blogs about my story. 

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Every three to six months I have a follow-up appointment or scan. I’m also taking another drug, a type of hormone-suppressing medication called an aromatase inhibitor. I’m tolerating the side effects; the alternative, not taking it, would increase my chances of recurrence.

About 460 men die each year from breast cancer in the U.S. because it’s detected late. Maybe they find a lump and ignore it because they don’t know they can get breast cancer. I didn’t know a man could get breast cancer. I was so totally unaware. I’ve talked to guys who waited years to discuss a lump because it made them feel like they were less of a man, it was a female disease. That machismo irritates me.

Sometimes you can’t be cured, but you can always be healed. There’s a difference. Sometimes it’s not going to be okay. All I’m looking for is to have another day to work, to be with my family, and to spread awareness.

www.health.com/breast-cancer/ronnie-pace-male-breast-cancer “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

What to Do After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis, According to Women Who Have Been There

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There’s no “right” way to react to hearing the words “you have breast cancer.” Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis might make one woman scream or burst into tears while leaving another feeling speechless and numb. Those four words are life-changing, and we all process this kind of news differently.

But it’s probably safe to bet that anyone facing a breast cancer diagnosis is going to have some questions, whether it’s “What are my treatment options?” or “Why me?”

If you've recently been diagnosed with the disease, you'll get answers to many of those questions from your doctors in the coming days and weeks. But how do you wrap your head around the situation so you can make smart choices for your health? We asked eight breast cancer survivors to share their very best advice on what to do in those first few hours and days after a diagnosis—and how to move forward.

RELATED: 14 Things Women With Metastatic Breast Cancer Want You to Know

Cry and scream

“Cry, scream, have a short-lived pity party, decide you are a victor and not a victim, find your voice, them pick yourself up from the floor, find a support group and attend, and see a counselor for as long as it takes to help you sort through everything you don’t realize you are feeling.”
—Michelle, 50, Grand Prairie, Texas; diagnosed in 2012

Remember to breathe

“When I was diagnosed, I felt the weight of the world on my chest. It’s such a whirlwind; for me, it was complete shock. I just kept repeating to myself all evening, ‘Just breathe!’ Do what’s best for you and let others help—and just breathe!”
—Laura, 35, Stanley, Virginia; diagnosed in 2010

Slow down

“I felt like my world was collapsing around me when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Everyone tries to help, but receiving advice from so many people actually added to my anxiety levels. I wish I took some time just for myself and let the world slow down. There are a number of [treatment] options available, and you need to calm yourself to understand your possibilities. I wish I knew how to meditate back then, because it would have been useful!”
—Melissa Mae Palmer, 44, Barrington, Illinois; author of My Secrets of Survivorship; diagnosed in 2013

List your questions

“Write questions down before [your next] appointments so you don’t forget. You’ll get hit with a lot, and it can be so overwhelming that you can’t remember what you wanted to discuss.”
—Danni, 32, Salt Lake City, Utah; diagnosed in 2016

Take notes

“Record every doctor’s appointment until you get your bearings, or take someone with you to appointments to write everything down. You won’t remember anything beyond ‘it’s cancer’ in the first few weeks.”
—Chris, 52, Florence, Kentucky; diagnosed stage 2 in 1994, stage 4 in 2002

Get organized

“I got a small divided file box and kept copies of everything—every pathology report, referral, doctor’s note. It’s a lot thrown at you all at once, and sometimes you want to be able to go back later and read this stuff. This way, you’ll have it all. It’s a lot of information, but try not to panic. You can get through it!”
—Jennifer, 43, Rhode Island; diagnosed in 2013

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Stay in touch

“I strongly suggest creating a page on CaringBridge.org [a nonprofit organization that hosts free websites for people dealing with health issues]. Instead of making phone calls after each appointment, I entered any updates of my condition on my page. It was a lifesaver. Family and friends all agreed it worked great to keep everyone informed without repeating conversations, forgetting to tell someone, or getting things confused any more than they already are.”
—Peggy, 66, Baxter, Iowa; diagnosed in 2014

Focus on the basics

"I had just received my MRI results, which showed that my breast cancer was much more extensive than the physicians initially thought. I sent my friend and mentor, Paul, a text that just said, 'I have breast cancer.' By the time I lifted my finger from the send button, he was already calling me back. In a tone both compassionate and authoritative, he said to me, 'I want to give you five rules. Rule 1: Stay positive. Rule 2: Stay off the internet. Rule 3: Eat a healthy diet. Rule 4: Get exercise, even if it is just walking around the block. Rule 5: Get plenty of sleep.' A cancer diagnosis makes it difficult to absorb information; we suddenly feel the weight of the world on our shoulders and acute fears of mortality. Paul's advice removed some of that weight by giving me a simple framework to continue moving forward during a very stressful moment. He did not add another decision I had to make or another stressor. His advice at its core was to streamline life and to add an element of predictability to balance the chaos by focusing on the basics."
Melissa Thompson, 34, Stamford, Connecticut; diagnosed in 2015

And whatever you do…

—Vicki, 39, Decatur, Alabama; diagnosed in 2012

www.health.com/breast-cancer/breast-cancer-diagnosis-advice “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

 The Early Symptoms of Breast Cancer, From Women Who Experienced Them

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These days, a monthly breast self-exam is considered optional. But still, doctors urge their patients to become familiar with how their breasts normally feel (say, by massaging them in the shower on a regular basis) so they can detect any changes. The fact is, about 40% of women with breast cancer discover their tumors themselves.

“I teach patients common sense rules. They’re your breasts and you have two hands, you should get to know them,” says Julia White, MD, director of breast radiation oncology at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. “If you know your breasts and notice something is out of the ordinary and it persists, then go get it checked out."

And she's not just talking about a lump or a mass in your breast. You should also look for crusting at the nipple, or bloody nipple drainage, says Dr. White, especially if it's just one side. Other symptoms include a change in the shape of your breast that’s not explainable by your period, pregnancy, or nursing; a retracted or flattened nipple; an indentation in your breast that doesn't go away after you take off your bra; persistent pain on one side; skin that changes color rapidly; and a lump in your armpit.

Here, nine women who have had breast cancer share the symptoms that led them to a doctor's office, and ultimately a diagnosis. They all have one message: trust your gut, and get anything suspicious checked out. These are their stories.

RELATED: 25 Breast Cancer Myths Busted

I noticed what felt like a frozen pea in my armpit

“During a routine breast self-exam, I felt a really tiny lump. It didn’t hurt, but it was mobile and felt like a frozen pea. It was right inside my armpit, which seemed odd at first, but I remembered that your breast tissue actually extends into your armpit. This didn’t feel consistent with the breast changes that came along with my menstrual cycle.

"I actually kept quite calm, even though in my gut, I knew what was going on. So I called my ob-gyn, who offered to take a look during my next annual exam, which was months away. After nothing changed in a week, I called the breast center at my local hospital and demanded to be seen. After imaging and biopsies, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 24.

"From my experience, I hope that other women will learn that you need to monitor changes in your body, but it’s futile if you’re afraid to speak up about them. Women need to have the confidence to speak up.”

—Brittany Whitman, Cleveland Education Ambassador for Bright Pink

I had fevers and difficulty breastfeeding

“I was misdiagnosed with mastitis twice because I had high fevers and trouble breastfeeding. It turned out to be cancer. Tumors were blocking the milk ducts. I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at age 32, five weeks after I had my first child. It didn’t look like mastitis at all. So many people told me “100% chance” it is nothing. No one thought of any alternative, however, until multiple courses of [mastitis] treatment failed.” 

—Melissa Thompson, healthcare policy advocate, Stamford, Connecticut (You can read more of her story here.)

My breast looked a little pink

“In the shower one day, I noticed a pale pinkness on my breast just below my nipple area, which looked more like a mild sunburn than a rash. I knew something was off. I had my ob-gyn take a look, and he said he wasn’t concerned at all because it was barely noticeable. He suggested my bra fit too snugly, and I needed to go shopping for new bras. So I did just that.

"Over time, that pink area hardened slightly and was sore to the touch. My ob-gyn again said he wasn’t concerned. Eventually the pain increased behind my breast in my back. My ob-gyn said that breast cancer does not hurt, so I didn’t need to worry about it. He ordered a mammogram to put my mind at ease. The mammogram and all other tests came back normal.

"Weeks went by and my lower back began to hurt. Eventually, after my GP suggested I had arthritis and I went to physical therapy. I went to see a breast specialist. He told me I had mastitis and gave me antibiotics. That didn’t help. Back at the breast surgeon, he sent a picture of my breast to the top surgeon who ordered a diagnostic mammogram, which includes a sonogram and a biopsy. I was diagnosed with Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer in my breast, bones, and liver.

“Women know their bodies best. If you see or feel something different, something is wrong. You must be your own advocate. I knew something was wrong and I knew it was getting worse, but the doctors were all telling me not to worry, so I ignored my gut feeling. Mine took 11 months to diagnose, which allowed it to spread to my bones and liver. Today, my cancer is incurable.”

—Jennifer Cordts, Dallas

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There was a marble in my breast

“I had fibrous breasts, so even on a good day, my breasts felt like a bag of frozen peas. I had been receiving Bright Pink’s Breast Health reminder texts to check my breasts, so I was pretty familiar with how my breasts felt. However one day I felt a lump in my left breast near my nipple, which seemed to be the size of a marble or gumball. This lump felt different. It was hard, but had a bit of a give to it.

"From the moment I felt the lump, I knew I had breast cancer. I went in that day for an appointment with my gynecologist, who ordered a mammogram for later that afternoon. After that, I had a core needle biopsy, but the tests all came back negative. I never felt relieved or satisfied with that result.

"At a later breast check, I felt the lump had grown, so I insisted my gynecologist help me find a surgeon to remove the lump. It was removed and I was told it was stage 2, aggressive triple negative breast cancer. I also discovered I was BRCA-1 positive, meaning I had the breast cancer gene. I can’t stress it enough, listen to your body!”

—Erin Scheithe, DC Education Ambassador for Bright Pink, Washington, D.C.

I found a lump

“I first felt my lump when I was getting dressed. I waited several weeks until after my next period to see if there were any changes in size. When that wasn’t the case, I scheduled my annual mammogram. Given that my mom passed away from cancer in 1997, I had my first mammogram at age 35. The radiologist compared my mammograms and noticed a change in my right breast. The biopsy revealed the presence of pre-cancerous cells (stage zero). She ordered an MRI, which showed other areas of concern. After more biopsies, I was diagnosed with triple positive stage 1 invasive breast cancer at the age of 37. With chemotherapy, radiation, and numerous surgeries, I’ve been cancer-free for six years.”

—Stef Woods, Professorial Lecturer at American University, Washington, D.C.

RELATED: The 5 Breast Cancer Stages, Explained

My dog found my cancer

“I had just been to the ob-gyn for my annual check-up and breast exam, and got the 'all okay.' Soon after, my little dog Zoe climbed up on me and started pawing at a specific part of my breast. Little alarms went off in my head, telling me to pay attention. It was like a slow-motion movie. I pushed her off and that’s when I found a little round BB-sized lump. After a mammogram that didn’t show anything, and a sonogram that found the lump, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. It’s so important to listen to the messages our bodies are telling us.”

—Christine Egan, author of The Healthy Girl’s Guide to Breast Cancer, Bayport, New York

I felt something like a hard, round piece of cheese

“After a shower one night, I did a self-breast check. I felt something like a round, hard piece of cheese about the size of a quarter. I had just had a mammogram six months earlier. I felt healthy, biked all the time, and wouldn’t have guessed that something wasn’t right in my body. But I didn’t wait to see what was going on. I went to the doctor immediately and was referred for an ultrasound and needle biopsy. I was diagnosed at age 46 with stage 3 breast cancer, and soon after had a mastectomy. I would never recommend to anyone to 'wait and see.' While it was a very scary realization, you’re only saving yourself if you take care of it aggressively.”

—Sandy Hanshaw, founder of Bike for Boobs, San Diego

RELATED: You Found a Lump in Your Breast. Now What?

I felt a pea on my ribs

“I had done monthly self-breast exams since I was in my early 20s. I felt a tiny hard little bump the size of a small pea. I could only feel it because it was over my rib at the bottom of my left breast. In retrospect, my bra may have hurt a little in that area before I found the lump. I have had many lumps, bumps, and cysts biopsied, but this pea was definitely different. I scheduled my annual mammogram along with a biopsy. I received the breast cancer diagnosis within a week, just shy of my 55th birthday. Turns out, there was another in the other breast that didn’t show up on a mammogram. I also discovered I was a BRCA 1 mutation carrier. I needed aggressive chemo followed by a double mastectomy. Had I not done the exam that evening, everything would be quite different.”

—Cynthia Bailey, MD, president and CEO of Advanced Skin Care and Dermatology, Inc., Sebastopol, California

My nipple inverted

“Back in October 2015, I felt something lump-ish and hard in my right breast. I went for a mammogram and received a clean bill of health. Sadly, I was happy to accept the diagnosis I wanted to hear. By the spring, I knew something was wrong. My breast actually shrank and the nipple inverted, a classic sign of breast cancer, though I didn’t know it. When that happened, I knew I had to do something. My primary care physician examined me and told me I needed to go for a test. I remember clearly pulling out my datebook and suggesting next week. She sternly shook her head and said I had to go to that afternoon. I was diagnosed as early stage 3 cancer. The big lesson I learned was, don’t be afraid to ask for help. I tend to keep my issues to myself, but cancer is not something you can solve on your own. Talk to professionals and avoid the internet! Get real advice.”

—Gerri Willis, FOX Business Network anchor, New York, New York

www.health.com/breast-cancer/early-symptoms-breast-cancer “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

Facts of Life Star Mindy Cohn Reveals Five-Year Battle with Breast Cancer

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This article originally appeared on People.com.

One morning in 2012, Mindy Cohn’s life changed forever.

“I was walking around my neighborhood in Los Angeles and I suddenly got so tired,” says the actress best known for playing Natalie Green in the ’80s sitcom The Facts of Life. “I just couldn’t go anymore. This was before Uber was really a thing, so I texted my friend Helen Hunt and said, ‘Something’s wrong with me. I need help.’”

Cohn went to the doctor, and a scan showed something in her breast. Before she knew it, she was being biopsied. The news was devastating. “It was breast cancer,” she tells PEOPLE. “I kept that secret for a long time.”

For the next five years, Cohn, now 51, underwent what she now calls a “siege.” She ultimately underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.

Before the diagnosis, Cohn had always been the rock-steady center of her circle of friends. The five-year ordeal drained her, however. “I’ve always been an optimist,” she says. “But the cancer metastasized. It kept spreading and coming back. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and then it would. And then I’d wait for another shoe to drop, and it would. I was frustrated and enraged. I couldn’t control any of this. I couldn’t fix it.”

Cohn had always kept busy since doing The Facts of Life (In addition to multiple on-camera roles, she did the voice of Velma on the rebooted What’s New, Scooby-Doo for more than a decade), After her diagnosis, she stepped away from Hollywood to recuperate.

Cohn found refuge with her close friends, Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Dr. Brent Ridge, lifestyle gurus best known for their reality show The Fabulous Beekman Boys. There, on their 60-acre farm outside Sharon Springs, NY, she found a peaceful place to battle the disease and recover. “They are my family,” she says. “I have my parents, who have always been there for me. And then I have my family by choice, which includes them. We’ll be in each others’ lives forever.”

Today, Cohn is cancer free – and back in Hollywood. She’s become more active on her Twitter and Instagram. She’s healthy enough to plan a trip climbing Machu Picchu with Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge next year. Most of all, she’s looking forward to landing new and interesting acting roles. “I’m feeling great,” she says. “And I’m so ready to get back to working. I think I’m a good actress, and I have a lot to offer. I’m excited to see what I get to do next!”

For more about Cohn’s battle, pick up the latest copy of PEOPLE, on stands Friday

www.health.com/syndication/facts-of-life-star-mindy-cohn-secret-five-year-breast-cancer-battle “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

Breast Cancer Survivor Rita Wilson Slams RHOC Cast for ‘Very Uncomfortable’ Cancer Talks

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This article originally appeared on People.com.

Rita Wilson has been watching this season of The Real Housewives of Orange County and relates to Peggy Sulahian‘s cancer battle.

On Monday’s episode of Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen, the actress opened up about the 44-year-old reality star, who underwent a double mastectomy weeks before joining the hit Bravo show’s 12th season.

Sulahian’s decision to get the procedure came after a biopsy found abnormal cancerous cells in her right breast — though Sulahian failed to mention that to her RHOC cast members at first, instead telling them that she went through with the bilateral mastectomy despite that fact that her BRCA gene testing, which helps women know their chance of getting breast and ovarian cancer, came back negative.

That lack of information left her fellow Orange County Housewives confused later when she said she had been diagnosed with cancer. But Wilson — who announced to PEOPLE exclusively in March 2015 that she was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma and underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction — understood Sulahian’s story and pointed her frustration back toward the other ladies.

“I was very uncomfortable about it because I am a breast cancer survivor,” the actress, 60, told WWHL host Andy Cohen.

“I was initially misdiagnosed and a very dear friend of mine said, ‘You have to go get a second opinion on your pathology,’ and that came back cancerous,” Wilson added. “If she didn’t initially feel or was told that perhaps she didn’t have cancer, it’s not necessarily true until you get the pathology tested, so I felt that that was really unfair.”

Wilson declared that she was cancer-free in December 2015. On WWHL, she stressed to Cohen the importance of staying on top of one’s health.  “Being breast cancer awareness month, I think it’s important for us to get as many second opinions as we can and get checkups,” she said.

Previously, Sulahian — whose mother died of breast cancer when Sulahian was just 21 years old — admitted that she regretted sharing her diagnosis with her costars, telling Bravo’s The Daily Dish “interrogation is not supportive.”

As of now, Sulahian — who will document the process of getting reconstructive surgery on the show — is “100 percent cancer free.”

“Please stay on top of your appointments in order to dodge this terrible disease,” she wrote on her BravoTV blog back in August. “I want to emphasize that testing negative on the BRCA gene does NOT guarantee being free of cancer. Putting your life in the hands of a reconstructive surgeon isn’t easy. It’s a long healing process mentally and physically, but completely worth not living the rest of your life in fear. I’m currently considering becoming active in the cancer communities, in order to offer my advice, hear more stories, and provide emotional support for women encountering the road block in their life.”

The Real Housewives of Orange County airs Mondays (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.
Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen airs Sundays through Thursdays (11 p.m. ET) on Bravo.

www.health.com/syndication/rita-wilson-peggy-sulahian-cancer-scare “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

After 3 of My Family Members Died of Breast Cancer, I Got a Double Mastectomy at 25 

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To say I have a family history of breast cancer would be an understatement. My grandmother, two aunts, and a cousin on my father’s side all had the disease. Another aunt had ovarian cancer. By the fifth cancer diagnosis, we knew it wasn’t chance; cancer had to be in our genes.

So in 2006, members of my father’s family underwent genetic testing for BRCA-1, the mutation that makes you 72% more likely to get breast cancer during your lifetime, and 44% more likely to get ovarian cancer. All five of my already-diagnosed family members tested positive for BRCA-1. My father, who did not have cancer, also tested positive.

At the time, I was only a freshman in high school. I wasn’t ready to find out yet.

One year later, my aunt Helen passed away in June from ovarian cancer; followed by my Aunt Tina, who died of breast cancer in November. By 2011, my cousin Jen had lost her battle with breast cancer, too. She was 37.

RELATED: The 5 Breast Cancer Stages, Explained

Finding out

It was that year that I decided to meet with a genetic counselor. I was only a sophomore in college, but I was starting to fear my fate. Would I be next?

The counselor actually told me I was still young to get the BRCA-1 test. She wanted me to be older, out of college. That way, if I decided to do something about it, I would be in a more stable place.

I ended up holding off until I was 24. My grandmother, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s, had just died of colon cancer. Enough is enough, I thought. I was anxious, and I needed answers.

I tested positive.

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Next steps

The first thing I did was see a breast specialist to make sure there weren’t any lumps in my breasts already (there weren’t). Then I had a choice to make. I could either pursue a preventive double mastectomy to erase my heightened risk of breast cancer; or I could opt to be closely monitored, and come back to the doctor every six months to ensure I remained cancer-free.

I didn’t make any decisions right away. How could I? Removing both breasts was a scary prospect. But I ultimately decided my likelihood of developing breast cancer, and my family history, were even scarier. One year and a handful of consultations later, I decided to move forward with the preventive surgery.

RELATED: Should You Get Tested for the Breast Cancer Gene?

One of my coworkers made this cake for me before my surgery. I loved it!

Going under

I underwent a double mastectomy on October 18th, 2016. The procedure took six hours, and I stayed in the hospital for three nights post-surgery.

My body had a hard time coming out of the anesthesia immediately after the procedure. Within a few hours though, my extreme nausea had passed, and by the next morning, I was even able to walk down the hospital hallway.

I received my biopsy results that second day, which showed me that there was no cancer in the breast tissue they had removed. That was the ultimate relief. It felt like confirmation that I’d made the right choice–and in time.

The most uncomfortable part of the whole process was the expanders that were put in my chest, to stretch the breast tissue and make room for the silicone implants I would get later. The expanders—which stayed in until I had my implant exchange surgery in March—weren’t painful; they were just awkward. They felt rock-hard, nothing like real breasts.

Expanders aside though, recovery didn’t last long. I was able to stop taking pain medications within a week of my double mastectomy. And though I took five weeks off from work, my friends could hardly believe I’d undergone major surgery when they visited me at home.

The truth is, taking my health into my own hands made me feel like I could endure anything. I actually felt lucky that I had the opportunity to make a choice my family members didn’t get to.

RELATED: 6 Things Women With Breast Cancer Want Their Friends to Know

Life today

For the most part my life has returned to normal since I got my implants last spring. I’m exercising again, and I'm back to work as an exercise physiologist, performing cardiac rehabilitation at a hospital.

The physical consequences of my choice surprisingly don’t bother me much. I’m not particularly sad to not have my own breasts anymore. Part of me thinks I was never that attached to them because of what breast cancer had done to the rest of my family.

As I’ve returned to the dating world—my longtime boyfriend and I broke up about nine months after my surgery—I’ve been self-conscious that my scars might actually bother others more than they bother me. Some men haven’t understood the reasoning behind my decision, or why I did it so young. But I know that if someone truly cares about me, they’ll see beyond my scars and love me for who I am.

Luckily on the whole, people have been respectful and understanding. I’ve blogged about my journey over the last two years, and the support I’ve received has astounded me. I want to educate and inspire other women to take control of their health, and to spread awareness about the BRCA-1 mutation. My blog allows me to do that.

Most importantly, I’m proud that I chose to remove both my breasts. Knowing I’ve done everything I could to keep myself healthy isn’t just reassuring, it’s also empowering.

It’s likely I’ll also get my ovaries removed in the future, but I want to have kids first. Some of my aunts left behind husbands and young children when the disease took their lives. If I can take actions to avoid that, you better believe I will.

For now, I just feel lucky to be here.

If you feel you could benefit from meeting with a genetic counselor, the National Society of Genetic Counselors offers an online directory to help you find one in your area.

www.health.com/breast-cancer/why-i-chose-a-preventative-double-mastectomy “>
Breast Cancer – Health.com

5 Steps You Can Take to Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence

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If you were diagnosed with breast cancer in the past, there’s a chance it may come back again. A large 2016 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that women were most at risk for a recurrence within the first five years, and particularly one to two years after their surgery. While your healthcare team will keep a close eye on you—especially in the months following your treatment—there are a few steps that you can take that may reduce your risk of a cancer relapse.

Exercise for 150 minutes a week

It’s hard to understate the benefits of physical activity. A 2017 review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal revealed that among women with a past breast cancer diagnosis, physical activity reduced mortality by about 40%. “Exercise may be the most influential modifiable risk factor in reducing breast cancer recurrence,” says Margaret Flowers, PhD, director of scientific communications and grants at the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. "While the research is still inconclusive about the biological underpinnings of this relationship, we know that exercise improves energy metabolism and reduces insulin levels. Other factors that are believed to be at play are a reduction in estrogen and metabolic hormones levels, as well as improved immune response."

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Try not to gain weight

Most women gain some weight after they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, for a variety of possible reasons. They may feel too fatigued from chemo, for example, or experience a drop in their metabolic rate due to the drugs. Stress eating may also play a role. But several studies have shown that gaining weight during or after treatment increases the risk of recurrence, and reduces survival.

Fat cells release molecules called cytokines, which trigger inflammation, explains Flowers. Think of inflammation as an immune response that’s “much like the swelling you might see when a cut on your finger is healing,” she says. “A chronic, pro-inflammatory state supports the growth of tumor cells and makes them more aggressive, or more likely to spread to other tissues in the body.”

While it might be hard to avoid putting on any weight, the less you gain the better: The 2017 review noted that moderate weight gain—5 to 10% of a woman's body weight—was not linked to increased mortality, but a weight gain of more than 10% was.

RELATED: 57 Ways to Lose Weight Forever, According to Science

Cut back on saturated fats

The evidence is mixed, but the 2017 review noted that women who ate more saturated fats and high-fat dairy products had a greater risk of dying from breast cancer. That said, it’s unclear whether fatty fare is really to blame. The researchers pointed out that women who reduced their calories from fat also tended to lose weight (six pounds, on average), which is another way to protect against recurrence.

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Consider an anti-estrogen drug

For women who have a higher-than-average risk of recurrence, doctors can prescribe medication. In particular, two drugs—called tamoxifen and raloxifene—can block estrogen in the breast cells, lowering the risk of developing breast cancer by about 40%, according to the American Cancer Society.

In order to see a long-term benefit, however, women need to take the pills for minimum of five years. The downside: the drugs can cause hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and a loss of libido. “It can be difficult for some women [to adhere to these drugs],” says Flowers, “but there are remedies for some of the side effects.” Treating the symptoms you’re experiencing can help you stick with the medication for as long as necessary, she says.

RELATED: 16 Celebrities Who Battled Breast Cancer

Don’t smoke—or overdo it on the booze

Women who continue to smoke after their diagnosis are more likely to die of breast cancer than their non-smoking counterparts, according to the 2017 review. It’s unclear whether cutting out cigarettes will reduce the odds of a recurrence, say the researchers, but it might help breast cancer survivors live longer.

Although the evidence is not yet conclusive, limiting your alcohol intake might help, too. Researchers have found that heavier drinkersthose who consumed more than 20 grams (or about a drink and a half) per daywere more likely to die of breast cancer than those drank less. In general, it’s a good idea to limit your intake to one drink a day.

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Here’s When Women Should Be Screened for Breast Cancer

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This article originally appeared on Time.com.

At age 45. At age 50. Once a year. Once every two years. If you’re trying to find some consensus on when and how often women should get screened for breast cancer with mammograms, you’re not going to find universal agreement.

As confusing and conflicting as the advice seems, the back and forth is leading to a more personalized vision for breast cancer screening that should be more effective for individual women. Rather than blanket statements that can sweep women who are at high risk into the same screening schedule as lower risk women, for example, what’s emerging is a more flexible scheme, after discussion with a woman’s doctor, that’s better tailored to her own risk. The major groups agree that most women should get their first screening between age 45 and 50, and that women with a family history of breast cancer should start earlier.

When mammograms emerged in the 1970s as a tool for detecting breast cancer, it was in the era of the War on Cancer. The early understanding of cancer then—as it still is now—was that finding cancer early, when tumors are still small, leads to the best chance for treating it and helping women live longer. Cancer was stigmatized tremendously at the time and often taboo to talk about, so doctors struggled to get the public to accept the disease and introduce the idea of getting tested as early as possible to control it. The general advice was to screen as early as needed—and as often as practically possible.

However, while the assumption was that screening would lead to longer lives and more lives saved from cancer, there was conflicting data on whether that was actually the case. It made intuitive sense, but studies showed that women who were screened regularly did not necessarily avoid dying from breast cancer, compared to women who weren’t screened. Even the age at which doctors suggested that women start getting mammograms—40—was somewhat arbitrary, based on the fact that cancer, and breast cancer in particular, is generally a disease that occurs in older people.

Those studies also show that the high number of lesions found by mammography, some of which were false positives, led to a surge in additional testing, biopsies and radical treatments, including mastectomy and even prophylactic mastectomy, in which women decide to remove both breasts even if there are tumors in only one. Studies have found that mammograms in the U.S. can lead to 30% higher false positive results in which the suspicious lesion turns out not to cancerous.

In recent decades, new scientific evidence started trickling in, since enough women had been screened and followed for years to document their rates of breast cancer and causes of death. When the potential benefit of saving lives from breast cancer were weighed against the risks of over diagnosis and over treatment, those results were an eye-opener: they failed to consistently show that mammograms did more good than harm.

Still, the intuitive message behind screening—that looking for cancer helps to find it and treat it—was so strong that it was hard for doctors and the public to question mammograms. Then the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a group of independent experts convened by the government that is charged with taking on such topics, reviewed the evidence in 2009. The task force’s mission is to provide advice based on what the most rigorous scientific studies show. If there is no proof that something is beneficial, then the task force does not recommend it.

MORE: I Treated Breast Cancer for Years as a Doctor. Then I Was Diagnosed

When the USPSTF reviewed the literature on mammograms, they came to a surprising conclusion. There was little evidence to support the benefits of mammograms in younger women, they found. For them, the risks of having biopsies of suspicious lesions, or additional procedures if the screening picked up lesions, outweighed the benefits in protecting them from advanced breast cancer. After analyzing the data, they recommended that most women start mammogram screening at age 50, not 40, and that they get screened once every two years rather than annually.

The recommendation wreaked havoc in the cancer community and caused confusion among women. Breast cancer advocates were convinced that the advice would lead to a rise in breast cancer rates, not to mention deaths from breast cancer, if more women delayed screening and had their cancers picked up later, when treatments are less effective. The Susan G. Komen group, for example, voiced concerns that younger women may feel less urgency to get mammograms. “There is enough uncertainty about the age at which mammography should begin and the frequency of screening that we would not want to see a change in policy for screening mammography at this time,” the group said in a 2009 statement responding to the USPSTF findings.

Within a few years, studies did show that anywhere from 6% to 17% fewer women in their 40s, depending on their ethnicity, were getting mammograms. According to the latest figures from the SEER cancer database, however, deaths from breast cancer continued to decline at the same rate, by nearly 2% each year from 2005-2014, even after the USPSTF recommendations.

MORE: 6 Surprising Things That May Improve Breast Cancer Treatment

The rate of new breast cancer diagnoses also has not shot up as a result of the advice. Researchers say that may reflect the fact that some of the cases detected by mammograms among women in their 40s may not have been cancer after all, but lesions that were picked up by the test and then removed or treated.

The American Cancer Society now takes the middle road between the previous guidelines and the USPSTF in its advice, saying that women should start talking to their doctors about mammogram screening when they reach 45. Most groups do agree that women after age 75 should not be screened regularly—only if they have a family history or other reason to suspect they are at high risk for developing cancer.

The lesson from the shifting advice is that it’s still important for women to get screened for breast cancer, since detecting tumors early is linked to longer lives and fewer deaths from the disease. But when women should start getting the tests, and how often, depends a lot on her particular set of risk factors for breast cancer: whether she smokes and whether she has a family history of the disease, for example. The latest recommendations reflect a refining of mammogram advice toward a more personalized regimen that women and their doctors come up with that will, in the end, give women their strongest chance of preventing and surviving the disease.

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How Going to a Naked Hot Springs Retreat Helped Me Accept My Breast Cancer Surgery Scars

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This writer is part of Health.com's contributor network. Learn more about the contributor network and how to join.

Having breast cancer at age 39 wreaked havoc on my body—and killed my sex drive too. After 69 blood draws, 22 chemotherapy infusions, 11 infections (staph, kidney, and yeast, to name just a few), and seven invasive surgeries (including reconstruction surgery for my breasts and a full hysterectomy), I felt like Frankenstein. I didn't have a left nipple. Both breasts rocked red, angry-looking scars. I literally couldn't feel large swaths of my chest and stomach, and I felt furious and sad about having my tubes tied. I'd experienced emotional trauma, mental fog, physical weakness, even the loss of my eyelashes. The end result? I was avoiding sex with my husband of 15 years.

Before cancer, our sex life was normal. But after cancer, I sometimes had trouble believing that I was still a sexual being. I assumed that my (awesome) spouse now viewed me as broken, ugly, or less-than. I sought out support groups, but still felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, that my cancer would return at any moment.

I wasn't alone in feeling this way. Angel Wells, a 34-year-old I met through Bay Area Young Survivors (BAYS), a support group for young women living with breast cancer in the San Francisco area, had a similar experience. "Not only did breast cancer take one of my breasts, it broke my sexuality," she told me in an email. "I was completely unprepared for the pain and lack of sex drive, not to mention the strain on my relationship. I feel broken as a woman."

Ali Kent, 35, another BAYS member, said she, too, has struggled to get her sex life back on track. "The almost complete lack of sex drive, weight gain, and awful pain associated with sex now is unfair," she said.

RELATED: 14 Things Women With Metastic Breast Cancer Want You to Know

According to Karen Whitehead, a Georgia-based counselor who specializes in issues like cancer and life transitions, these are unfortunately not uncommon experiences for breast cancer survivors. "The scars from breast cancer can affect a woman's sense of sexuality and femininity, self-esteem, sex drive, desire for intimacy, and body image," she explained to me in an email. "It is not uncommon for women to feel defective or damaged in some way."

To try and rediscover my withered sexuality, I decided to visit a clothing-optional hot springs resort in Northern California. Today it's a non-profit retreat, but Sierra Hot Springs was once considered a sacred place by Native Americans. Situated next to a forest and alpine valley, it seemed like it would be a rustic, healing escape—and maybe it could help me come to terms with my new body.

When I arrived, I instantly felt worlds away from my normal urban routine of medical appointments, writing, cooking, and walking my dog. After checking in, I made my way to the main pool area, a gorgeous open-air dome with a hot tub and cold plunge baths. Butterflies, dragonflies, bees, and hummingbirds flitted through the tall trees.

The all-gender locker room was right next to the pool. Inside, two women were wearing bikini bottoms, but everyone else was completely nude. I wasn't ready for that just yet, though; in a move straight out of junior high, I quickly removed my cotton dress and underwear, rolled them up and placed them in a nearby wooden cubby, and draped a towel around my body.

Outside by the pool, I chose a lounge chair at the end of the row, wanting as much seclusion as I could get. The male-to-female ratio was about 50:50; there were naked bodies everywhere, but I felt self-conscious. No one else was missing a nipple, I noticed—I didn't even see any C-section scars. Not yet ready to bare my skin, I kept my towel tightly wrapped while I tried to read and enjoy the peace and quiet.

RELATED: 9 Things to Know Before Your First Mammogram

After a while, I noticed a woman in her 70s with her grey hair up in a bun. She walked slowly, with a soft smile, back to her chair from the hot tub. We didn't speak, but I felt a connection to her; surely, like me, she has faced challenges, and perhaps even illnesses of her own? And if she could walk around confidently, I could too, right? I longed for the peace she had in her own skin.

I finally got the strength to make my way to the hot tub, and let myself float and bob on my back with my breasts in the air. It was serene and freeing to look up at the sky while buoyed by water. Later, I tried to channel the older woman's confidence as I walked back to my chair. The wooden deck was warm, and I felt like I was finally ready to turn over on my back and let my breasts be free.

As I let the towel drop, I felt a fluttering in my belly, like I was about to get up and speak in front of a large group. But looking around, I realized that no one was looking at me. I sat back and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on my skin—scars and all.


Mary Ladd is currently the co-author of The Wig Report, a humorous graphic novel about hospitals, hair loss, and major illness.

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