Here's the deal:
A few months back, I found a lump in my breast. Where the hell did it come from? How did I not feel it before? I showed my husband. I showed my sister. I Googled "what does a tumour feel like." Despite all I read that told me lumps are common and are most often nothing to worry about, I was worried. I started to panic, naturally, as I always do because that is just the way I am. I'm Jewish. I'm neurotic. Being anxious is in my DNA.
The next morning I called my doctor's office and was able to see her right away. She felt it. She was certain it was nothing. It had the feel of something that was nothing. But best to be safe and get an ultrasound. So I had an ultrasound. The radiologist thought it was a bit suspicious. So I got a mammogram. And a biopsy. I started to panic, again. Why were they taking a biopsy of my perfectly normal lump? What did they see on their screen? The technician told me it would take about a week to get the results. "Try to enjoy your weekend," she said, "It could be nothing." It could be nothing? I wanted to smack that woman. But I refrained, found my husband in the waiting room, and burst into tears.
Anyone who has had a biopsy can tell you that waiting for the results is the most awful part. I slowly started to lose my mind. All I could think about was that lump. That stupid lump. I called my doctor's office and tried to track down my results. The more days that went by, the more anxiety I felt. Finally I heard from my doctor, who said she would be getting the results in a few days and that I should come in to go over them. Why did she want to see me if she didn't have the results yet? Was this normal protocol? Did she know something already? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!?!
That weekend, I participated in a walk for breast cancer that my family does together each year. Yes, that's right. I surrounded myself with breast cancer while waiting to find out if I had breast cancer. At the closing ceremonies, when all the cancer survivors walked in (including my father), I high-fived all the women who walked by. There was a rope between us, and as I reached over to touch their hands and saw their tears of courage, I began to cry too. No one would have noticed, because it is a highly emotional event, and there were tears in many eyes. But I cried because I suddenly was struck with this overwhelming realization -- I would likely be joining them on the other side of that rope.
On September 11, 2012 (and yes, I was not thrilled about the negative connotations associated with that date) my husband and I made our way to my doctor's office. She chit-chatted a bit, and then got down to business.
"Unfortunately, I don't have good news today. The biopsy showed that you have cancer."
My lifelong fear was actually happening. I was being diagnosed with cancer. Many, many years before I ever expected to hear those words.
My doctor, who is wonderful and patient, sat with us for two hours. I have no idea what we talked about. Every once in awhile I heard a word. Oncologist... chemo... children... aggressive... cancer... cancer... cancer. I stopped breathing for a few seconds. I floated out of my body. I floated back in. I called my dad and cried and told him to tell my mom, because I couldn't handle it. We left the office, stunned and exhausted. I messaged a couple close friends: I have cancer. Fuck. I emailed my boss: Unfortunately I just found out I have cancer. I don't think I can come into the office today.
And that was the beginning.
Results of a massive gene analysis, published last month in the journal <em>Nature</em>, shows that there are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/four-breast-cancer-types-genetics-genes_n_1909116.html">four major classes</a> of breast cancer, the Associated Press reported. "With this study, we're one giant step closer to understanding the genetic origins of the <a href="http://www.siteman.wustl.edu/ContentPage.aspx?id=6431">four major subtypes of breast cancer</a>," study researcher Matthew Ellis, M.B., B.Chir., Ph.D., of the Washington University School of Medicine and the Siteman Cancer Center, said in a statement. "Now, we can investigate which drugs work best for patients based on the genetic profiles of their tumors," he added in the statement. "For basal-like breast tumors, it's clear they are genetically more similar to ovarian tumors than to other breast cancers. Whether they can be treated the same way is an intriguing possibility that needs to be explored."
Men are less likely to get breast cancer than women -- but when they do, it's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/04/breast-cancer-men_n_1479739.html">often deadlier</a>, according to a study presented earlier this year at the American Society of Breast Surgeons meeting. The Associated Press reported that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/04/breast-cancer-men_n_1479739.html">men diagnosed with breast cancer</a> live, on average, two fewer years than women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, and are also more likely to have the breast cancer spread, have larger tumors when the cancer is discovered, and be diagnosed later.
Cadmium -- a toxic metal that can be present in foods like shellfish, root vegetables, offal and cereals -- may <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/cadmium-breast-cancer-intake_n_1347523.html">raise risk of breast cancer</a>, according to a March 2012 study in the journal <em>Cancer Research</em>. The research included 56,000 women. Researchers were able to analyze about how much cadmium each woman was consuming based on the cadmium-rich foods in her diet. They found that those who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/cadmium-breast-cancer-intake_n_1347523.html">consumed the most cadmium</a> had a 21 percent higher breast cancer risk, compared with those who consumed the least cadmium, HuffPost's Catherine Pearson reported.
Getting six or fewer hours of sleep <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/sleep-breast-cancer-aggressive-deprivation_n_1854658.html">may raise the risk of recurrent breast cancer</a> among post-menopausal breast cancer patients, according to a study in the journal <em>Breast Cancer Research and Treatment</em>. However, this same link was not observed for pre-menopausal breast cancer patients. The findings suggest "that <a href="http://www.uhhospitals.org/about/media-news-room/current-news/2012/08/lack-of-sleep-found-to-be-a-new-risk-factor-for-aggressive-breast-cancers">lack of sufficient sleep</a> may cause more aggressive tumors, but more research will need to be done to verify this finding and understand the causes of this association," study researcher Cheryl Thompson, Ph.D. said in the statement.
A <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-10/acos-afo092712.php">smallpox virus</a> seems to be promising against a hard-to-treat form of breast cancer, called triple-negative breast cancer, according to a study in mice presented at the 2012 Annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons. "Based upon pathology, we could see that at least 60 percent of the <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-10/acos-afo092712.php">tumors were completely regressed</a> and the other 40 percent had very little areas of tumor cells present with a lot of necrosis, which is a sign that the tumor was responding to therapy," study researcher Dr. Sepideh Gholami, M.D., of Stanford University Medical Center, said in a statement. ABC News pointed out that this <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/10/01/smallpox-virus-may-help-treat-deadly-form-of-breast-cancer/">kind of breast cancer is notoriously hard to treat</a> because it doesn't respond to other hormonal or immune treatments.
Working the night shift is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, according to two different studies that came out this year. One of them, published in the journal <em>Occupational and Environmental Medicine</em>, showed that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/shift-work-breast-cancer-risk_n_1553058.html">breast cancer risk went up </a>among women who worked the night shift more than twice a week, with the risk being the highest among those who said that they are "morning people" instead of "night people." <em>The Toronto Sun</em> reported that the results of this study confirm the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which has a list of items and <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/05/29/night-shift-work-linked-to-breast-cancer-risk">habits that may cause cancer</a>. The IARC considers shift work "possibly carcinogenic." The other study, published in the <em>International Journal of Cancer</em>, showed that breast cancer risk is 30 percent higher for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/01/shift-work-breast-cancer-night-sleep_n_1612486.html">women who work the night shift</a>, with the risk being especially clear among those working night-time jobs for four years, or those who worked the night shift for three or fewer nights a week.
The genes that help determine a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/breast-cancer-risk-breast-size-study_n_1652292.html">woman's breast size</a> may also be linked with her breast cancer risk, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal <em>BMC Medical Genetics</em>. Researchers examined the genetic data of 16,000 women to find that seven DNA variations, called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), seem to be <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/breast-cancer-risk-breast-size-study_n_1652292.html">linked with breast size</a> -- and three of those SNPs are known to be associated with a person's risk of breast cancer, HuffPost's Catherine Pearson reported.
Just a little bit of exercise may help to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/exercise-breast-cancer-risk-moderate_n_1619175.html">reduce your risk of breast cancer</a>, though the more you move, the better, according to a study in the journal <em>CANCER</em>. Researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill found that postmenopausal or reproductive-age women in their study who exercised the most -- from 10 to 19 hours each week -- had a 30 percent <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/exercise-breast-cancer-risk-moderate_n_1619175.html">lower risk of breast cancer</a>, though exercising less than that was still linked with some protective benefits. "The observation of a reduced risk of breast cancer for women who <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-06/w-eem062012.php">engaged in exercise after menopause</a> is particularly encouraging given the late age of onset for breast cancer," study researcher Lauren McCullough said in a statement.
For post-menopausal women, <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9541796/Breast-cancer-risk-raised-by-Type-2-diabetes.html">having Type 2 diabetes</a> may raise the risk of breast cancer, according to a review conducted by the International Prevention Research Institute. "On the one hand, it's thought that being overweight, often <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9541796/Breast-cancer-risk-raised-by-Type-2-diabetes.html">associated with Type 2 diabetes</a>, and the effect this has on hormone activity may be partly responsible for the processes that lead to cancer growth," study researcher Peter Boyle, the president of the International Prevention Research Institute, told <em>The Telegraph</em>. "But it's also impossible to rule out that some factors related to diabetes may be involved in the process."
Being overweight could lead to worse outcomes from breast cancer, according to a study published August in the journal <em>Cancer</em>. Specifically, the study showed that overweight women who have been treated for breast cancer have a <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48800019/ns/health-cancer/t/being-overweight-tied-breast-cancer-return-death/#.UGxtN_mfGPI">higher risk of recurrence and death</a>, NBC News reported. "Obesity seemed to carry a <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48800019/ns/health-cancer/t/being-overweight-tied-breast-cancer-return-death/#.UGxtN_mfGPI">higher risk of breast cancer</a> recurrence and death -- even in women who were healthy at the time that they were diagnosed, and despite the fact that they received the best available chemotherapy and hormone therapy," study researcher Dr. Joseph Sparano, associate chairman of medical oncology at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care, told NBC News.
Marisa Weiss, MD, of breast cancer.org, explains the different breast cancer stages and what they mean.
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