Kathy's Story

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Date of diagnosis:

1993, June, 2012

Age at time of diagnosis:

46 and 64

Stage of diagnosis:

Stage 2 and Stage 4

Date of 'NORMAL' mammogram:

Within the year

How was cancer diagnosed:By me as I had changes in scar tissue at lumpectomy site/Ultrasound and MRI confirmed Stage 4 with mets to bones, pelvic, abdomen and lungs

Kathy's story:  My story goes back to when I was premenopausal and 46 years old. The mammogram detected a 2.5 cm tumor.  I had a lumpectomy and was treated with chemotherapy and radiation.  I also was on Tamoxifen for 5 years; I thought I was okay.  Unknown to me was that I had dense breast tissue and not one of my health care providers ever talked to me about the significance of this fact.

I had yearly mammograms for nearly 20 years after my diagnosis.  I complained about the size and shape of the scar tissue from the lumpectomy site from 2009 till 2012.  No one listened or was alarmed and no one did a clinical breast exam.  I was simply told the mammogram said " normal" and adjunct screening was never discussed.  I was naïve too, because I didn't know I could have asked for more testing beyond the mammogram. Again, no one ever said anything about my breasts being dense.

I knew that I needed to find another breast surgeon who would listen to me.  I did when I was visiting in Florida.  As I showed my doctor the scar tissue at the lumpectomy site, he told me to go back to Michigan, find an new breast surgeon and have an ultrasound and MRI.  As I was preparing for my visits with my new surgeon, I got copies of my 5 years of mammography reports written by my radiologist - the words DENSE kept coming up in each report.

Tragically, the ultrasound and MRI confirmed a 7.6 cm cancer on the right side (where I had my prior lumpectomy) and 5 small tumors on the left - metastatic stage 4 breast cancer with pleural effusion by each lung and tumors on the liver, lungs, and in the bones and left inguinal area, umbilical area and abdomen.

I was angry that after all my complaints my health care providers dismissed my concerns because of my normal mammograms.  I don't and will never trust the local and regional radiologists as they need more training.  Having the opportunity to have adjunct screening to mammography, because of my dense breast tissue and my risk factor of already having breast cancer, was NEVER discussed with me.

I had to make a decision to move on with life, because of its shortness.  I am educating others to be their own advocate, as many women are misinformed and ill advised about the impact of dense breast tissue on breast health, or don't know how to be their own advocate.  I have two daughters that I am also educating and hopefully they will be empowered about their dense tissue and breast health.

I do not want to frighten other women but there is a message in my story.  It is about knowledge of density and its significance.

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  • Are You Dense? Fact #1:

    Breast density is one of the strongest predictors of the failure of mammography screening to detect cancer.

  • Are You Dense? Fact #2:

    Two-thirds of pre-menopausal women and 1/4 of post menopausal women have dense breast tissue. 

  • Are You Dense? Fact #3:

    Adding more sensitive tests to mammography significantly increase detection of invasive cancers that are small and node negative.

  • Are You Dense? Fact #4:

    Cancer turns up five times more often in women with extremely dense breasts than those with the most fatty tissue.

  • Are You Dense? Fact #5:

    While a mammogram detects 98% of cancers in women with fatty breasts, it finds only 48% in women with the densest breasts.

  • Are You Dense? Fact #6:

    A woman at average risk and a woman at high risk have an EQUAL chance of having their cancer masked by mammogram.

  • Are You Dense? Fact #7:

    Women with dense breasts who had breast cancer have a four times higher risk of recurrence than women with less-dense breasts.

  • Are You Dense? Fact #8:

    A substantial proportion of Breast Cancer can be attributed to high breast density alone.

  • Are You Dense? Fact #9:

    There are too many women who are unaware of their breast density, believe their “Happy Gram” when it reports no significant findings and are at risk of receiving a later stage cancer diagnosis.