My Breast Cancer Scare

My friend Katherine saved my life. Last July we were wandering around Midtown east near our office (we work at the same company), trying to figure out where to go for lunch. Somehow mammograms came up and I confessed that I hadn’t had one since a few months before I got pregnant with Mason. Heather, you’ve got to go get one! she said. Of course I knew she was right.  I’m not 40, the recommended age to start getting mammograms–but I’m 34, which is the same age my mother was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And Katherine knows my history as well as I do.

I was dragging my feet scheduling my mammogram because my first one had been so mortifying, and not for the usual reasons (ie. You’re standing there topless while a technician manhandles your breasts and takes images of them). I mean, that part was embarrassing–but it got worse as the testing went on. Turns out, the technician had recognized my photo from a recipe newsletter that I edited and she freaked out. You’re a celebrity! she said. (Um, hardly.) The next time I get my newsletter, I’ll say, ‘I’ve seen her boobies!’” OMG. If this woman was excited to meet me–and, um, “see my boobies”– imagine how she’d handle a mammogram with Jennifer Aniston?!

At Katherine’s urging, I called my ob-gyn as soon as we got back from lunch and scheduled my annual appointment. My doctor agreed that I needed another mammogram so she gave me a ‘script for one. The earliest I could get an appointment was last month because my ob hadn’t noticed anything concerning when she examined me. I marked the date on my calendar and forgot about it. My own mother had discovered her breast lump while she was taking a shower, so surely if my doctor didn’t feel a lump–and I hadn’t felt anything abnormal during my monthly self-breast exams–everything had to be fine, right? Or so I thought.

The day before I left for BlissDom, I got the mammogram. I had been sitting at my desk all morning trying to think up excuses to reschedule the appointment. I had a million things to do and I was positive I was fine. Why waste the time? Then I thought of Giuliana Rancic. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last fall, and she hadn’t noticed a problem prior to her mammogram. She hadn’t wanted to go get the test either, but she did and it probably saved her life. So I went through with it.

Nearly a week went by without a call from my doctor, so I assumed I was fine. They always call quickly if something is wrong, my mother assured me. Just put it out of your mind, you’re fine. Then my doc called to tell me that there had been a “finding” on my mammogram and that I needed to go back for a sonogram. I did as she instructed. Nothing showed up on the sonogram but it did show up once again on a second mammogram (which is apparently common with some masses)–and it turns out the finding was suspicious. The timing of all of this totally freaked me out–like I said, I’m the same age my mother was when she had breast cancer.

The radiologist ordered a needle biopsy, which I had done this past Tuesday. I’m not going to lie, it sucked. It was invasive and painful. The mass is right next to my breast bone, and I’ve been sore and bruised all week. But it was so worth it: About an hour ago, my doctor called to tell me that the mass they discovered  isn’t cancer (thank God) but it is precancerous, so I’ll need to have surgery to have it removed.

It’s cliche, but I feel like I dodged a bullet. Thank God I listened to Katherine. Thank God I have her as my friend. And thank God I don’t have cancer. To me, the biopsy yielded the best possible outcome. I’ll have this thing removed from my right breast–soon–and I won’t have to think about it anymore. And I’ll have a constant reminder (a scar) to take care of myself, which is something I forget to do sometimes now that I’m a busy mom. Get rest and exercise. Eat healthfully. Stop worrying so much. Stress less (my biggest challenge).

Seriously, if you have a family history of breast cancer–or you’re 40–schedule that mammogram. It’s just not worth it to take the chance. If not for you, do it for your kids.

Photo: Breast cancer awareness ribbon via Graphic design/Shutterstock

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  1. by Berit Thorkelson

    On March 31, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Wow — good thing you got it done! Yay, Katherine. Thanks for sharing. It’s a good reminder. I totally forgot that I need to go in this year.

  2. by Jill Cordes

    On April 1, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Heather, I’m so relived that you got that mamogram. And that it wasn’t the worst outcome. I feel my mortality daily now that I have babies. Our health is so important. Keep us posted on the surgery and everything. xo

  3. by Heather Morgan Shott

    On April 1, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Thank you so much for your support, Berit and Jill! Berit: Definitely schedule that test. It’s important to note that breastfeeding can make your breast tissue denser, which I learned after the initial mammogram, so don’t panic if they send you back for an ultrasound. Jill: Me too! Thank God. I’m absolutely with you on the mortality thing. It’s unnerving!

  4. by Ellen

    On April 3, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    I will admit, I read this backwards–I neede to know the results, so scared for you!!!! Thank God it was caught, and that you forced yourself to do something that us moms are so bad at: taking care of ourselves. Your reminder could save lives, props for blogging about it.

  5. by Brandy

    On April 17, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Thank Goodness you’re okay. My cousin lost a breast to cancer at 42. The lump she could feel did not show up on a mammogram or ultrasound – only on an MRI. She was lucky to have found it early and we’re lucky to have a dr that listened. She too found out that with denser breast tissue lumps often go unnoticed with tests. I turn 40 this year and will absolutely be discussing this with my doctor – thanks for sharing your story.

  6. by Brandy Nelson

    On April 18, 2012 at 12:33 am

    I to was diagnosed at the same age as my mother. She was 27 when she was diagnosed, I to was 27. They had told me stage 0 from all the test and biopsy’s. They had recommend that I took my left breast. So I cried and cried and I made the decision to get both left and right done. Cancer was ONLY in my left with lympnodes clean which they had to do another biopsy because they where en large. Aug I had my surgery, less than one month after I was told I had the big BC. But came to find out when I woke up that there was way more then they though and was glad that I made that hard decision of taking both. I went from stage 0 dcis to stage 1 dcis with invasive. I went to doc to doc to see if I need chemo and all the doc has no clue if it would help any. I fought my doc to give it to me even if it was an low dose I wanted something to ensure me that they got it ALL out cause they didnt with my mother. I started my chemo Sept and it was stop Jan due to side effects. And I have to do herceptin for an year because I was HER2 +3. (bad) I am still going through the herceptin and had another surgery march 27 for my breast tissue expanders. Because I had to remove both breast insurance will be paying for me to have reconstructive surgery. I have gone 6 months without breast and it just killed me emotional and physically as well as losing my hair. Because I was only 27 even though my doc knew my history of my mother being diagnosed at 27, it coming back after a month being told she was in remission and having only 3 years to live. (which that she did she passed at 33, one day before my brothers b day) they told me they would not give me a mammogram or even an ultrasound to check on me. I had to wait till something happened. (i didnt even have a lump i had discharge coming out of my nipple that hurt, and I even breast feed for 18 months)

  7. by Kristi

    On April 18, 2012 at 7:29 am

    I am writing this with my bald head gleaming in the kitchen light. I am 37 and undergoing chemo for breast cancer. This article is an important reminder BUT please remember that each of us must be proactive about our health. We cannot simply rely on mammograms and tests. I found a lump in January that was missed during my Ob/Gyn appointment in November. I had not been doing my own exams and am left wondering if I could have found this earlier. I have two wonderful little boys and every ounce of my fight is focused on being here for them. I have a long road ahead of me (finishing chemo, surgeries and radiation) but thank God the cancer is responding to treatment. Take responsibility for your health (physical, mental, and spiritual, too) and SUPPORT the FIGHT AGAINST BREAST CANCER.