When the late Mrs. Evelyn H. Lauder, co-creator of the ubiquitous Pink Ribbon, launched The Estée Lauder Companies Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign in 1992, she dreamt of a world without breast cancer. At the time, breast cancer was a disease that was rarely talked about; women who were diagnosed were terrified, and in some cultures, even ashamed or outcast. Twenty years later, the importance of breast health and the knowledge that early detection saves lives is information that is far more prevalent and discussed regularly, thanks to Evelyn. She was relentless in her determination to spread breast cancer awareness to as many people as possible, in as many places as possible. She impacted countless women and men with her bold vision for a breast cancer-free world -- this vision lives on in the hearts of so many, including my own.
It was 2009. I had always been assiduous about going for mammograms. I had learned through the years that many women have dense breasts and that a better way to detect any nodules is to use ultrasound. I went for my annual mammography. Normally, all is fine. This time, after the mammogram they did ultra sound, and they determined there was a suspect calcification. Every woman has some calcifications, so I wasn't very concerned. The doctor said they wanted it checked out further because it looked like it could be a problem. I met with a great surgeon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, where I had a biopsy, and they told me the results would be back on Friday. I never received a call. I called the office and the nurse said, "You will see the doctor on Monday, and he will chat with you then." I then knew that something was wrong. My doctor told me, "You have a little, little, little cancer." I was shocked. It didn't run in my family -- I even took the gene test, and I do not have the gene either. They did a biopsy. It came back, and I had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Many women have DCIS. The challenge is that it's a precursor to cancer, and if the cells migrate outside of the duct, it turns into breast cancer. They determined that the size and shape of my cells were very close to the boundary, and my doctor was concerned.
After that meeting, it was another month-long journey for me. I was receiving varying degrees of advice -- some said watch and wait; others said obviate it, or do a lumpectomy with radiation. If I did radiation, it would destroy the breast tissue, which would mean that if I did a mastectomy later, reconstruction would be difficult. It was a torturous decision to make. Finally, I had a discussion with my surgeon, and he told me that the size and shape of my "little, little cancer" would probably mean a 1 in 4 chance of getting breast cancer. At that time, the problem was in both breasts, which was more significant than in one of them. At that point, I made the decision to go forward with a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. After the procedure, they did a biopsy of the breast tissue, and they found that the cancer had moved out of the duct. Basically, I would have had a nasty invasive cancer within two years had I not had the mastectomy. What startled me two years later was that my sister found out she had breast cancer stage one. I went with my gut when making the decision to move forward with the double mastectomy. Honestly, after the surgery, I felt like I received a gift because not many people have the opportunity to get a heads up on something so life-changing.
Every woman goes into her mammography with the fear of finding a lump, but the mammograms of 10 years ago aren't the mammograms of today. In sharing my story, I hope to help women breathe a bit easier when they find out about these things. I also hope to give a voice to the critical, life-saving awareness message that early detection can indeed save lives; I believe that especially during this 20th Anniversary of The Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign, Evelyn Lauder would want not just me, but all of us to serve as this voice.
The Breast Cancer Awareness (BCA) Campaign is devoted to defeating breast cancer through education and medical research. If you'd like to share your personal breast cancer story just as I have, please check out BCA on Facebook this month, where tens of thousands are already doing so.