October Breast Fest

Pink, Pink, Pink. It’s all about the boobs this October. Officially known as Breast Cancer Awareness month, I’m sure that your social media is bursting with pink ribbons, breasts, and countless of articles on how to check for lumps, cancer nutrition, and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle so as to avoid getting cancer. Kind of like this site, come to think of it.

Here’s what I want to tell you ladies. If you followed my previous blog “Rocked by pilates“, you’ll know that I was diagnosed a year ago in October 2015. I didn’t go specifically to get checked because it happened to be breast cancer awareness month. It was just your run of the mill, routine mammogram. In fact, I was actually two months past my scheduled mammogram and ultrasound. So, I didn’t feel any lumps, bumps, there was no discharge. Nothing. Just a routine squish and a squash.

When they found the lump, it was 5 mm, Stage 1. But as there were no clear margins during the lumpectomy, they recommended a mastectomy. And because of my family history, I asked to have a bilateral mastectomy. Which my oncologist agreed to. In the pathology that followed, turned out I was what they term as Triple Positive. Which means I had positive Estrogen and Progesterone receptors, and I was HER2* positive as well. Oncologists need this information so they will know how to treat the cancer. My prescribed treatment was taxol (chemo), herceptin, and tamoxifen. The first two were via IV, administered weekly for 12 weeks (I’m currently still on herceptin which will end in December 2016). Tamoxifen is an estrogen inhibitor which stops estrogen production. This is commonly taken daily, for 5-10 years.

There is a point to my story of how I was detected sans symptoms, and the type of cancer I had. Because HER2 is an aggressive “cancer” so to speak, it means that it progresses quickly. Here is an anecdotal story on how fast this grows.

During one of my chemo sessions, I got talking to a woman who was having chemo prior to surgery. When they discovered her lump it was 3.5 cm, and she was HER2+. For reasons unknown, it took her 6 weeks to decide which course of action to take. But, by that time, the tumour had grown to 6 cm. So in a span of six weeks, it grew 2.5 cm. Let me repeat that in another way. 42 days later, it grew 25 mm. About 0.6mm a day.

Let’s just spitball this thought. If this continued linearly, it would grow 1.8 cm a month. So in six months, that’s 10.8 cm. Okay these numbers are simplifying the science, but when they say “you have aggressive cancer”,  this sonoffabitch is running through your body, guns blazing, taking everything down in it’s path – and doing it at an insane speed. Yeah, it’s the Usain Bolt of tumours.

So, back in October 2015, I had no symptoms, and my tumour was only 5mm. I couldn’t feel anything. Now, imagine a scenario, where, three months later, I finally felt something. That would have (based on my back-of-the-napkin science) grown to about 6 cm. That’s a bit larger than a golf ball right? That wouldn’t make me a stage 1 cancer any longer. See this site for more details on the various stages of cancer. Generally, the larger the tumour, the higher your stage, and the poorer your prognosis.

Don’t wait till you feel that lump. Don’t put off your yearly check. Don’t say you’re too busy. Don’t say it will never happen to you. Don’t think just because you lead a healthy lifestyle (which is all relative anyway) that you’re safe. Don’t think juicing means you don’t need a mammogram. Don’t say no to trying to save your life.

 

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Many women below the age of 50 get cancer. Many of these women don’t have family history. Breast cancer is not immediately classified as life threatening. It all depends on what stage it was caught at. The earlier the better, so that the best possible treatment can be given to kill that sucker.

To give you the chance to survive it. To give you the chance to grow so old, I’m talking shar pei wrinkly, gum smacking old. Old enough to play with your grandchildren; old enough that Sia, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift will only be heard on Gold FM; and old enough to be able to give great advice to all the women in your life.

This is October. It’s breast cancer awareness month. If I have managed to get one of you readers to get a breast check, then I will have done what I set out to do. Pay attention to your boobs ladies. Because, they may be plotting an evil plan against you.

*HER2 gene is a protein receptor in a cell, and it determines how quickly breast cells grow. Sometimes these genes go crazy and divide uncontrollably

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