Five Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
A letter from a mother to her daughters in celebration of Mother’s Day & National Women’s Health Week.
by Kerry Kenna
Dear Kara and Krista,
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was shocked. I’ve always been a healthy person, so I didn’t expect it. I felt like I’d been sideswiped. The thing I feared most was that I would miss being a part of your futures.
I’m writing this letter to you two today – six years later – because I want to thank you for your love and support during the tough times and share what I learned along my journey back to good health. I pray that you never get any type of cancer, but if you ever did, perhaps this advice would help you through it and make it less frightening. In fact, I hope it will help all women.
It’s important to get a second opinion.
When my doctor called to give me the news, I asked, “Will it kill me?” His frighteningly cavalier response of “Well, it’s cancer” sent a chill down my spine and made me realize that I needed to advocate for myself. My first step was to get a new doctor! You have to trust your gut and know that not all doctors are created equal.
Mammograms aren’t perfect, so stay alert.
As you know, my cancer didn’t show up with a mammogram. I felt the lump. My doctor said it was fibrous tissue and I was happy with that, but then, over several months, I noticed it was getting bigger and I said so. When they biopsied the lump they discovered it was malignant. I never thought it would happen to me, but I’m glad I was persistent about it because early detection opened up a whole world of treatment options I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
There may be more options than you think, so get educated.
The only choice I thought I’d have was a single or double mastectomy, so I was pleased and surprised when my doctor said I’d be able to have a lumpectomy followed by targeted radiation, then chemo. After considering all the options I selected five-day partial breast radiation (brachytherapy) instead of a longer six-week course. For me it was critical to get through it quickly and know I had one part of my treatment out of the way. Getting the right treatment is the key to survival.
It takes a village.
A friend of mine and cancer survivor told me about the University of California San Diego and recommended Dr. Ann Wallace, the surgeon who did my lumpectomy. Dr. Wallace collaborated with Dr. Cate Yashar, the radiation oncologist, and Dr. Schwab, the chemotherapy oncologist. Collaboration between doctors is key, so it’s good to find people who work well together.
The support and love of family is everything.
I want to thank you both for supporting and encouraging me through "our" breast cancer battle. Kara, I remember you coming down from LA and spending the entire day of preparation and surgery by my side. Your being there eased my stress immensely. Krista, you were there with me through so many chemotherapy infusions making sure I was comfortable. You gave me great comfort and strength. Your dad too was amazing. In a family like ours, we journey together through times like these. Your love got me through it.
I hope that you take good care of your precious bodies, get mammograms, do self-exams and pay close attention to any changes. I am so grateful that I have survived and that I am now healthy so that I can enjoy sharing your lives with you. You amaze me every day. I am looking forward to spending another Mother's Day with you both!
Kerry Kenna is a breast cancer survivor and patient advocate. She has collaborated with the BC5 Project, a group dedicated to broadening awareness of breast cancer treatment options for women.