The Importance of Breast Self-Awareness – A Story of Survival

In August 2018, my mammogram was clear with no issues. Like most women, I set a reminder for August 2019 to return for my annual breast exam, knowing I needed to begin preparation for that year’s tasks. For me, those included settling my daughter into her first year in college and continuing to promote my professional and philanthropic efforts.

Just before Christmas 2018, I had an itch on my left breast, suggesting a growth of some kind. I have experienced a number of benign tumors over the last decade, so I wasn’t alarmed, but I knew this needed to be checked by my general practitioner.

Luckily, my daughter had a check-up scheduled, so I asked for one, too. We were both referred for a mammogram, then a biopsy; I still count my blessings to this day that my daughter proceeded through with a benign diagnosis. Her knowledge of symptoms and breast changes to watch for was her gift.

That day, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. The shock of the discovery gave way to a search for knowledge and clarity. Over the next month, I learned more about my specific diagnosis. We discovered it was growing fast, feeding on the hormones my body was producing. The doctor’s suggested treatment was chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and hormone therapy to suppress the chance of reoccurrence.

I completed my chemotherapy treatments on May 13, 2019, and my surgery was scheduled for June. The doctors performed a lumpectomy and an axillary dissection to remove the diseased tumors and the affected lymph nodes. On June 21, my wonderful, brilliant surgeon declared me “CANCER FREE.” I had longed to hear those words for over six months.

Blessed is an understatement as to how I am feeling. I have the most amazing medical team from my surgeon, to my oncologist and my radiation oncologist. My most urgent learning from this experience is that we must know our own bodies and seek treatment for anything we suspect is wrong. If I had waited for my next scheduled mammogram, I fear I would not have been diagnosed at Stage 2 and have been afforded the opportunity to say I am “cancer free.”

I have more work to do in the meantime, but I do it from a place of strength. This year for my birthday, I raised over $1,300 for Susan G. Komen Greater Atlanta to assist in their fight to reduce the number of breast cancer deaths by 50% by the year 2026. I fully intend to be strong and healthy to celebrate new generations with my family, and early detection made that possible.

Please, be your best advocate. Know your body. Seek answers and, if need be, treatment to restore your health.

Patricia Falotico