Did you have your mammogram?

| vschneps@queenscourier.com |

It was four months ago that I went for my yearly mammogram and checkup with my gynecologist. Up until now it had been “OK, see you next year,” but this time it was different.

And so a journey began. I knew my breasts were dense and for decades I have been taking hormone replacement pills, so I knew I might someday have a problem. Luckily, I had dodged the bullet all these years.

But when Dr. Arthur Cohen examined me this time he said he didn’t like what he felt, and asked if I could go for a mammogram right away. I said “right now?” and he gently responded “yes, I will call Nassau Radiology and see if they can fit you in.”

About an hour later I was having the exam and waiting for the report. Although there was no lump they didn’t like the reading and sent me to have an MRI of the breasts. Within days the doctors consulted and suggested I see a breast surgeon.

I had seen Dr. Karen Kostroff 10 years ago when I had a lump in my breast and she surgically removed it to find there was no malignancy. So I knew who to see and quickly got an appointment. She again recommended surgery and within days I was in the hospital for the outpatient procedure, but this time the findings were not as good.

Ironically, the MRI had shown both breasts had potential problems and so both were operated on, and the lymph nodes were analyzed as well. I kept feeling everything would be all right and to my relief most of the tests were good but I did have stage one breast cancer in one breast. So they removed the nodule surgically during a second outpatient procedure.

The day after the surgery was the bris for my newest grandson, Hudson Dean. It is a Jewish custom carried out on the eighth day of a baby boy’s life. I didn’t want anyone to know I had had surgery the day before since this was his celebration and I believed nothing should distract from it. And nothing did. It was a day of heartfelt joy and I was totally distracted from myself.

The journey of handling the cancer brought me and my team of doctors, now including a breast surgeon, a radiologist and an oncologist, to a joint decision that I undergo a 16-day radiation therapy program and a take a pill for five years.

I must share with you that the people at the office of Nassau Radiology in New Hyde Park were the warmest, friendliest, most flexible people I could ask for. With my busy schedule I was changing appointments daily! Somehow I fit the treatments into all I had to do, and they accommodated me with grace and ease.

Yes, I had moments of “why me?” I called them pity parties, allowing myself 15 minutes of weeping and wailing, but then it was back to work and life.

I hate having anyone call me a “cancer victim,” since I am not! What I am is a very lucky woman who religiously went for my mammogram every year, and early detection saved my life.

Last week our Queens Courier newspapers published a list of warning signs in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I will share them here again, but whether or not you have any of the “signs,” give yourself a gift and get a mammogram every year. And ask your gynecologist if an MRI would be better for you. Do it! You’ll be as grateful as I am . . .

Courtesy Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Due to the increased use of mammography, most women in the United States are diagnosed at an early stage of breast cancer, before symptoms appear. However, not all breast cancers are found through mammography. The most common symptoms of breast cancer are a change in the look or feel of the breast, a change in the look or feel of the nipple and nipple discharge.

If you have any of these symptoms, see your health care provider. In most cases, these changes are not cancer. For example, breast pain is more common with benign breast conditions than with breast cancer. However, the only way to know for sure is to see your provider. If breast cancer is present, it is best to find it at an early stage, when the cancer is most treatable.

Breast lumps or lumpiness

Many women may find that their breasts feel lumpy. Breast tissue naturally has a bumpy texture. For some women, the lumpiness is more pronounced than for others. In most cases, this lumpiness is no cause to worry.

If the lumpiness can be felt throughout the breast and feels like your other breast, then it is probably normal breast tissue. Lumps that feel harder or different from the rest of the breast (or the other breast) or that feel like a change are a concern. When this type of lump is found, it may be a sign of breast cancer or a benign breast condition (such as a cyst or fibroadenoma).

See your health care provider if:

• You find a new lump or any change that feels different from the rest of your breast.

• You find a new lump or any change that feels different from your other breast.

• Feel something that is different from what you felt before.

If you are unsure whether you should have a lump checked, it is best to see your provider. Although a lump may be nothing to worry about, you will have the peace of mind that it has been checked.

Nipple discharge

Liquid leaking from your nipple (nipple discharge) can be troubling, but it is rarely a sign of cancer. Discharge can be your body’s natural reaction when the nipple is squeezed. Signs of a more serious condition, such as breast cancer, include:

• Discharge that occurs without squeezing the nipple

• Discharge that occurs in only one breast

• Discharge that has blood in it or is clear (not milky)

Nipple discharge can also be caused by an infection or another condition that needs medical treatment. For these reasons, if you have any nipple discharge, see your health care provider.