‘No Longer a Disease for Our Moms and Grandmas’: Women on Early Breast Cancer

By | November 10, 2019

At the age of 41, Jenny Rose Ryan was shocked to learn she had breast cancer.

In a recent Styles column, Jenny, a writer, editor and communications consultant in the Pacific Northwest, shared the story of her diagnosis with ductal carcinoma in situ, or D.C.I.S., and the emotions that followed. The piece inspired dozens of women to add their own experiences with breast cancer in the comments.

Below is a selection of the readers’ moving stories, which have been lightly edited.

I started doing breast self-exams at age 40, just as I was told to do. After several years, I would lapse a month here, a month there. One morning when I was 46, I casually checked during a shower and was stunned to feel a tiny lump.

A biopsy confirmed that it was cancerous, and I went through the lumpectomy with radiation. It was only 1 by 1.5 centimeters — barely invasive, stage 1 (A).

However, 11 and then 15 years later, there were indications of calcification and other symptoms, so I chose mastectomies. Because of the previous radiation, an implant wasn’t an option.

But it didn’t matter! When given a choice between cancer or being “boobless” and living a longer life, it was a no-brainer.

I’m now 82 and doing fine.

— Liz Konold, France

After a mastectomy, I was told that I did not have cancer and never did. Oh, how I wish I was brave enough to refuse after the D.C.I.S. prognosis.

This was more than 10 years ago, when the doctors still laughed at the kind of free will I had.

— Kathy Millard, Toronto

I was 43 when I got the diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma (I.D.C.).

I couldn’t believe it because I had no family history of any kind of cancer, let alone breast cancer. I had two young children, a busy job and, well, a life to live.

Bilateral mastectomies, six months of chemo and years of tamoxifen were my fate. After three and a half years, I am cancer-free.

I felt a little sorry for myself at being so young and having to deal with breast cancer. The hospital I went to for treatment asked for your birth date at check-in instead of your name. Each time, I noticed there were more and more women with birth dates in the 1980s. And one woman was born in 1991!

This is no longer a disease for our moms and grandmas.

— Kelly Fisher, New York City

I found a lump in my breast at age 42. It was invasive, so actually cancer.

Even then, I didn’t consider it all that life-altering to go through routine treatment. I quickly relegated the experience to the dustbin of my personal history once it was over.

When I was diagnosed with stage 4 — and a very bad stage 4, with both visceral and bone metastasis — less than 18 months later, now THAT was life altering.

— Esther Burns, Portland, Ore.

Even though I know the odds are in my favor; even though my mother, grandmother and mother-in-law have all had breast cancer and survived long term; even though I know that the most likely outcome next week is that I will be annoyed that I had to use my floating holiday for this diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound, I am terrified.

— Laura Turner, Schenectady, N.Y.

I thought if I ever had D.C.I.S., I would wait. But when faced with D.C.I.S., all I could think was, “Get it out, get it out, get it out.”

The radiologist said it would need to get removed because it would grow. And the surgery pathology confirmed that: The tumor was “nuclear grade 3,” the most aggressive.

I had a lumpectomy and radiation, perhaps saving myself a total mastectomy down the road. D.C.I.S. is not always benign.

— Helene Snihur, Rochester, N.Y.

Thank you for putting into words what was my same experience a year ago. I got the same diagnosis, but I chose a mastectomy because of my “lack of tissue.”

I’m grateful I ignored the advice to wait to have a mammogram. I have shouted from the rooftops to all my friends that they shouldn’t wait either.

— Taylor Jessica, Queens

Exactly one year after the death of both of my parents by a livery car, I tried to catch up with my annual health exams.

My mammogram revealed a Rice Krispie-size lesion in my fibrocystic breasts. I refused the bilateral mastectomy suggestions for lobular carcinoma in situ (L.C.I.S.). My lumpectomy revealed D.C.I.S. and L.C.I.S.

After 35 rounds of radiation and a miserable adventure with tamoxifen, I am fine seven years later.

Lynn Parodneck, Pound Ridge, N.Y.

I, too, was diagnosed with D.C.I.S. and was immediately sent to a “navigator” who would help me schedule all the procedures: lumpectomy, radiation, etc.

I went home, did my own research and declined it all. I was 72 when I was diagnosed and I’ll most likely die with D.C.I.S., not from it. This is the right decision for me.

— Joyce Halee, Sun City West, Ariz.

With a mother who had breast cancer at age 51, I had numerous biopsies, checkups and mammograms when I was 33 and 45. They showed only calcifications but were nonetheless worrisome.

Along came 50 and I was diagnosed instead with early-stage uterine cancer. I am fortunate now, at age 70, to still be cancer-free.

But I am not exactly free — it’s always there, that cancer scare.

Day by day, we are ourselves free to react to that scare and live free.

— Annette Hull, Culleoka, Tenn.

At 37, I went for a routine checkup to my gynecologist, and when he sat down to chat after the exam, I was expecting to leave shortly.

Then came those words: “You have a lump in your breast. I’m sending you to get a mammogram in an hour.”

A lumpectomy, radiation and a double mastectomy have left me cancer-free.

There is no history of breast cancer in my family. None.

It’s been three years. I still can’t believe I had cancer. I still hate looking at the massive scars across each breast. I still live every day with the fear it will return.

But my friends were by my side the whole time, and something interesting happened as a result of such trauma: I learned to stop and smell the roses. I don’t take anything for granted these days and feel so lucky to have such wonderful friends.

— Victoria Browning Wyeth, Chadds Ford, Pa.


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