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When I thought I might have breast cancer

As we close out breast cancer awareness month, I’d like to share a personal story. It’s about me. Twice in my life, I was worried that I had breast cancer. When I was 27, I was an intern (first year of residency). About 4 months into intern year, I began to notice a milky discharge from my nipple. I was not pregnant nor was I breast-feeding, so I should not, under any circumstances, have been lactating. I was very scared. Here I was, at the beginning of my career, and I might be sick. What if it was cancer? What if I died? What if….everything?
Life, as I thought of it at the time, was just beginning for me. I had just graduated from medical school. Had just moved to Atlanta and bought my first home. Dating a wonderful guy. Life was grand. And now this terrible disease might be coming for me. I was worried that my life would change. Or end. Would I have to have a mastectomy? I’m new in town and I don’t have a doctor yet…Where will I go for help? I won’t tell my Mom or boyfriend yet- they’d just be scared and worried. And that wouldn’t help anything. So I kept it to myself. Essentially I was alone with my secret. Alone and terrified. Maybe with reconstruction, I could get a nicer pair. But even that giggle did very little to allay my great fear.
My mammogram was scheduled. It seemed like weeks, but was actually only a few days.  I had the test and then waited an eternity for the result: negative! To say I was relieved, is an understatement. At the time, I did not have to have any yearly testing, as I was under the age recommended for yearly screening.
Fast forward 14 years. Time has gone by. Last year, I started my first year of screening mammograms. The first one, no issues. This year…..
I expected to get my letter in the mail. You know, “everything’s fine, see ya next year, yadda yadda…” Instead, my letter informed me that they saw an “area of concern,” (read: it’s abnormal and possibly cancer), and that I needed to return for repeat imaging. Again, the fear tapped me on the shoulder. “Hey girl! How’ve you been?” This time, fear magnified. I’m married. I have a daughter. In other words, I have so much more to live for. And my life might change-and not for the better. My husband saw my pale face and asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t hide it, or lie about it. So I showed him the letter. I tried to reassure him, but I was really trying to reassure myself. So, after reading the letter a million times over, I made the follow-up appointment, and went for imaging. I had a repeat mammogram an ultrasound, and galactogram. Then I waited in the imaging center for the Radiologist to read and films and tell me my fate. Minutes dragged out like a butter knife through bread. I don’t think I took one breath during that time.
Finally, the result came. I was in the clear- this time. I again breathed a sigh of relief, but I now don’t take for granted that life can change in the blink of an eye.
For all the breast cancer warriors and survivors, I love you and God Bless you! Ladies, please do your screenings! Early detection saves lives!!

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