Katie Scola | December 14, 2020
OK so here comes a heavy hypothetical…What if you were told right now you are living with cancer? You will need to go through chemotherapy. You will lose your hair. You will need to undergo major surgeries and go on medication for a long time. Would you call the doctor? Of course you would. But if you are anything like I was, this hypothetical has never seriously crossed your mind.
It was a pretty normal Sunday at the end of January 2016 when we noticed something a little abnormal on my left side. I will admit I was past due on scheduling my yearly OBGYN appointment. I called the doctor on my way to work Monday morning and was scheduled to go in on Tuesday. I was a little nervous but also knew I was the healthiest I had ever been—worked out 5-6 days a week, ate healthy, and felt great. Besides, I was only 27 and no one gets breast cancer at 27, right?
I left the doctor on Tuesday feeling relieved. Apparently, it felt cyst-like, meaning the lump was full of water so it couldn’t be a tumor. Normal protocol is to have a mammogram and ultrasound, so I was scheduled to come back on Thursday to be safe. I had been fortunate to live a healthy life up to this point, so why would I be worried?
Come Thursday, I was lying on the table with my left arm over my head trying to guess what the radiation oncologist was looking at on the screen. At first, she said it looked like a common fibroadenoma (nothing to be worried about), but I swear she was looking at it for an additional 5-6 minutes and said nothing. She told me she wanted to do a needle biopsy.
I don’t do well with needles, getting blood drawn, or anything in that category. No thank you. I’m pretty sure I asked her if there was any other way to see what type of tissue this was made of.
Nope. Suddenly I found myself with a needle in my left side, and everything got real. As I was sitting there with an ice pack in my bra, feeling lightheaded, she told me she would call after 12 p.m. the following day with the results.
As I drove out of the garage my heart sank into my stomach and I lost it. What in the world is going on? I told myself 90% of these are benign and people have this done all the time so I’m sure I have nothing to worry about, but it was starting to hit me just how serious this could be.
I tried to have a normal Friday and around 2:00 p.m. I received a call from the doctor telling me I had ‘a cancer’ (yes, she actually phrased it like that). She said she was just as surprised as me.
In that instant, life as I knew it completely changed. After multiple tests over the next 2 weeks, at age 27, I was diagnosed with Stage 2b Invasive Lobular Carcinoma. I had about one year of intense treatment and am currently undergoing 5-10 years of hormone therapy.
I share this story not in an effort to scare you, but to say that cancer can happen to anyone. Fortunately, there are some simple steps to try and find it early if, heaven forbid, you are diagnosed. One of those is to stay on top of your normal health screenings.
In the early days of my diagnosis, I remember thinking, what if I had gone to the doctor sooner than I did? Would they have found this in an earlier stage before it had spread? Would my treatment look different? Unfortunately, there is no way to know.
Since the start of the pandemic, I have continued receiving hormone therapy and have made many trips into the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston. Each time I go, I feel safe and know these appointments are important to keeping me healthy.
It can be easy in such hard and uncertain times to de-prioritize proactive screenings, but it’s critical that we don’t put these off. If you can take one thing away from this, I hope you will schedule your next annual appointment or screening. Early detection really does save lives. Call you doctor ahead of time to learn about the COVID-19 protocols they are following to ensure you feel prepared and safe.
Again, if you were told that you are living with cancer… would you act differently? I know I would have!