October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
This is my story....
My name is Shelly, the other half of Slightly Askew Candle Co. I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) breast cancer at the end of 2017, right before Christmas. It was not something I wanted to have to tell my family as we all gathered Christmas day. Not only because it was Christmas, but because my father had just died a very horrific and painful death from throat cancer three months prior and we were all still mourning. I was pretty angry when I was told of my diagnosis. I was trying to mourn the death of my dad and now this?!
I was having some gut issues at the time and, at 41 years old, had to have a colonoscopy and endoscopy the week before my routine mammogram. I was extremely worried about the results and eventually heard back from my Gastroenterologist that there was one minor thing we’d need to keep an eye on, but everything was normal otherwise. That was great news!
My annual mammogram appointment was routine and had been scheduled the prior year. I wasn’t worried about it at all. My only worry was how hard I was going to get smashed in the mammogram machine. Everything was going as usual during my mammogram until the technician said she needed to scan an area again. I noticed a very slight change in her demeanor. She was still just as professional as before and we continued with testing, but I could tell something was up. Once done, she asked me to wait in the testing room as she needed the doctor to look at the images. I knew something wasn’t right. I’ve never sat in the testing room after a mammogram clinching the little half-a-piece of gown closed to wait for a doctor.
It wasn’t long before the door opened and not one, but two doctors came in the room. This wasn’t going to be good and turns out, it wasn’t. They told me they saw something “suspicious” and they were concerned. They showed me the images and suspected it was Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS) which looks like salt sprinkles inside the milk ducts. They were very glad that it was caught so early as it can grow outside of the ducts and become another more invasive cancer that spreads. They immediately preformed a biopsy that day to have the tissue tested to confirm the diagnosis. It was like a mini surgery. I went home and cried angry tears. A few days later I sat in a room with yet another doctor who confirmed that I did indeed have cancer. I was determined to just do what I had to do. I didn't really have a choice. It's not something you can just come back in a few years and take care of.
Things moved quickly after that, with several appointments with a breast cancer surgeon and an MRI here and an MRI there and more mammograms. I’ve never had so many mammograms in such a short amount of time. You can imagine how sore I was. Then I got metal clips inserted in my breast to mark the site and had a lumpectomy to remove the DCIS salt specs. If you shake a bit of salt out in your hand that's what it looked like in a few places.
I was told I did not need chemotherapy and a month after I healed from surgery, I added a new doctor to my medical team, a Radiation Oncologist. I had to have one week of an intense radiation that directed the radiation directly to the site where the cancer was. It was rough and modesty went out the window with the number of times I had already had to expose my upper body. At one point during “Intense Week,” there were literally 6 different people in the room. Doctors, nurses, technicians, student doctors, and I'm just standing there getting smashed like a pancake with my face glued to the side of a machine. It was wild! I just went with the flow. It was what it was at that point. Once that week of torture was over, I started my 6-weeks of whole breast radiation treatment 5 days a week and you can't miss a day. My employer was very understanding and allowed me the time I needed to get well. I did take some time off work after my lumpectomy surgery but decided to do radiation during my lunch break. I’m a tough cookie.
Radiation wasn’t painful…until it was a few weeks in when my skin started to react. First there was a tiny scab that I treated with the creams provided. Then that scab turned into sores until my skin just began to peel from the entire radiation site from my upper chest down and around to my side. My skin was raw and couldn’t heal because the radiation only irritated it. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but I was one of the lucky ones and it was awful. Eventually, after radiation was completed my skin slowly healed, but it was painful. 4 years later my breast is still sore at times and my skin has healed but is still discolored and I have a 4” scar, but your girl is cancer free!
So, I said all of that to let you know that we can’t feel everything. Breast self-exams are important, but it is also extremely important to schedule your annual mammogram.
Hugs & Love,
In 2022, it is estimated that 287,850 women will be diagnosed with a form of breast cancer.