May 13, 2015 10:00 AM

Author: Cancer Learning Center

By Anna Pocaro-Manley

I am a wife, a mother of two beautiful young children, a professional photographer, and a breast cancer survivor. In March 2012, I was diagnosed with triple negative, stage III, grade-C invasive ductal carcinoma.

I found the lumps almost two years before diagnosis. While living in South Carolina in 2010, I felt two lumps in my left breast, and I went in to get them scanned. The test results said the lumps were “benign-appearing lymph nodes in left breast,” so no biopsy or further scans were ordered.

One year later, in 2011, I found a third lump, this time in my right breast. The OBGYN decided that this “new node” was the same as the lumps in my left breast and didn’t order any scans to confirm her assumption. She told me to see her if I felt any change in the lumps’ shape or size. Unfortunately, I ignored my gut feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

Fast forward to February of 2012. Now living in Utah, I noticed two rather large lumps above my right collarbone. I didn’t immediately connect these lumps to the ones in my breasts. The node in my right breast had not changed and was actually still quite small. My OBGYN in South Carolina hadn’t seemed too concerned and I trusted her professional opinion. I wasn’t sure what was causing the lumps or discomfort in my neck. My husband finally urged me to see our primary care physician—not only for the lumps, but also because he was finding his once energetic and restless wife now curled up on the couch every day while our young children were running amok.

After examining me, my primary care physician ordered chest x-rays and blood work to be done immediately. The next week I went in for a mammogram and ultrasound, which led to a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed that this was, in fact, breast cancer.

Finding out you have cancer is one of the most alarming things that can happen to you. I was in shock when I was told and probably have not completely come out of it to this day. This certainly was not what I had planned for the next eight months of my life and beyond. My thoughts at the time of my diagnosis were all over the place. The first thing I asked was, “Will I die from this?” The response I received was actually very reassuring—I was told that it would be highly unlikely that I would. My second question was, “Will I lose my hair?” That response was not as appealing as the first. To a young woman, losing your hair is a huge deal!

For my treatment, luckily my family and I were now Salt Lake City residents and living only a few miles from Huntsman Cancer Institute—what I consider to be one of the leading cancer research facilities in the country. I soon became a patient under the care of Saundra Buys, MD.

I was surprised to realize that the tumors in my breasts never did change in shape or size—but the cancer had spread quite significantly throughout my lymphatic system. I believe the cancer would have been found two years earlier than diagnosis if I had advocated for myself and asked for scans of those first two lumps.

My personal cancer experience has made me want to make a difference by spreading the word about early detection in breast cancer. I started Peace of Mind, an online community, with a sincere hope to educate and encourage women to get breast cancer screenings. [Learn the recommended breast cancer screening for your age.] I cannot take breast cancer away. But for the women who will be diagnosed, I want them to catch it early. I want them to avoid the intense treatment of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery that I had to endure.

Please encourage your friends, your mothers, your daughters, your sisters, and anyone else you know who should be taking care of her breast health to follow through on the recommended course of breast cancer detection. Schedule your mammograms together and make it a yearly tradition: get your screening, go to lunch, and have a great time supporting one another. We can help one another live presently and continue to do so with peace of mind.

Cancer Learning Center

Huntsman Cancer Institute

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