Breast cancer survivor: Don’t put off your mammogram

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Debbie Schneider


I did not expect anything to be wrong during my mammogram. I hadn’t felt any lumps or noticed any other breast cancer symptoms. So when the mammogram found an abnormal lump, I was shocked. Further testing showed I had invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer.

I knew right away I wanted to get to MD Anderson for treatment. My father had undergone treatment for melanoma at MD Anderson 30 years ago, so I had great confidence that was the best place to be.

Facing a breast cancer diagnosis

I was very scared when I first got my diagnosis. I blamed myself for years of drinking diet sodas and using non-organic cleaning agents. Your mind can take you down a dark road filled with existential questions. As a hospice nurse, I was already thinking about whom I would select on my care team when my time came. All my thoughts led to a negative outcome.

My family treated me like a fragile doll; they were scared, too. But my husband, David, is a family medicine doctor, so he researched treatment options, and that eased my initial distress. Friends shared their stories of relatives who had undergone breast cancer treatment. But these were not always helpful. I had to filter out the negativity. I began researching to find advice and resources to help with recovery and prevention for the future. That gave me hope.

Coming to MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment Two weeks after my diagnosis in July 2018, my husband, David, and I made the three-hour drive to Houston from our home in San Marcos, Texas.

Getting to MD Anderson and figuring out parking and elevators was overwhelming. But everyone was so kind and helpful. Even the food services staff and lab technicians made us feel welcome.

The team at MD Anderson’s Breast Center did another mammogram and confirmed my diagnosis so they could determine the best treatment plan for me. My care team recommended a lumpectomy on the left side followed by radiation therapy. My radiation oncologist, Benjamin Smith, M.D., had led a clinical trial at MD Anderson called the OPAL study that looked at whether a reduced number of radiation treatments could effectively treat early breast cancer. He decided my course of radiation would follow similar protocols even though the study had ended.

I was in good hands at MD Anderson for breast cancer treatment

I underwent 13 radiation treatments targeted to the part of the breast where the tumor had started. The radiation team was so professional and compassionate. I had slight skin irritations from the radiation on my left breast, but no pain or burning. Dr. Smith was so careful to protect my heart and lungs from radiation damage.

I had a wonderful team of doctors, but Dr. Smith won the prize. In June 2020, I needed an urgent biopsy to rule out a new lesion. When I felt scared, Dr. Smith called to reassure me and helped me stay on track. My breast surgical oncologist, Makesha Miggins, M.D., put me at ease with her big smile and gentle hands. My medical oncologist, David Ramirez, M.D., was always knowledgeable about the latest studies and treatment methods. with the latest studies and treatment methods.

I had to take a few weeks off work to stay in Houston for my daily radiation treatments, but MD Anderson ensured everything ran smoothly and was well-orchestrated. I have no side effects from treatment, and I am grateful for my good health.

A different perspective after breast cancer

I’ve been cancer-free since July 13, 2019. I return to MD Anderson once a year for testing and follow-up visits. If it was not for the routine mammogram, I would not have known about the lump. Don’t put off early screenings. Early detection is key to a positive outcome.

I appreciate life more now. I strive every day to keep myself healthy. I’ve made a point to exercise every day since my diagnosis. I even feel like I love more deeply and give more freely now.

David has a different perspective now, too. My experience affected his practice as a family doctor. “The level of competency and compassion shown by the doctors at MD Anderson took my wife and me from a very dark abyss into great hope and, to our astonishment, peace,” he says. “I have learned that compassion is not just important; it is everything. Our experience was wonderfully life-changing.”

If you are facing a cancer diagnosis, be kind to yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you. And most of all, keep being a good human.