If you’re reading this, you’ve been affected by breast cancer. You may not have had it yourself, but you know someone who has or someone who’s lost a person they love. I’m no exception. Breast cancer took my mom at age 54, a month shy of seeing her son graduate high school and her youngest daughter graduate medical school. Breast cancer had already taken my mom’s older sister by the time my mom was diagnosed. Breast cancer has had my mom’s younger sister fighting through brutal surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapies for six years; despite all those steps, she is now stage 4.
My name is Sara and I joined Team 9/64 to walk for the second year in a row with my dear friend, Tara. I participated in my first Avon Walk in 2006, a year after my mom died. It was an incredibly empowering and positive experience in the fight against breast cancer. I walked in memory of my mom and in honor of my aunt; my husband walked beside me with the same spirit. It was amazing how quickly those 39.3 miles passed with so many high-energy crew members, cheering spectators, and inspiring fellow walkers. Equally as energizing were the generous people who donated to my fundraising campaign and helped me surpass my goal.
I took a few years “off” from the walk when I started a family (it’s admittedly a bit challenging to walk 39.3 miles when eight months pregnant). Then last summer I turned 35 and, in the world of “high risk” women like me, that’s when breast cancer screening begins. My genetic testing came back negative, which is generally a good sign, but given that my aunt was also negative, the results gave me no solace. Several weeks later I had my first mammogram; as is common with first mammograms, the radiologist requested I come in for additional imaging. The second set of images confirmed they’d found something…the films showed a pattern of bright white spots that was eerily similar to those of my mom’s diagnosis at age 50. One cluster was particularly concerning, so I underwent a biopsy and was implanted with a titanium clip to mark the spot--I felt like an invasion was already beginning. Fortunately the tiny mass was benign, but it started a ticking clock in my head…how many more biopsies over how many years before one came back positive?
A few days later I got a text from a friend; she’d just been diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at age 34. The biopsy scare and the news from my friend opened my eyes fully—in my family, breast cancer is highly aggressive and if (or in my mind, when) I get it, it will kill me. I did some research, I talked to my OB/GYN, I met with a breast surgeon, I consulted with plastic surgeons who specialize in breast reconstruction, I read a blog by a 30-year-old woman who’d undergone preventative mastectomy and reconstruction, I attended a local breast reconstruction forum, and I talked to my aunt and my sister and my closest friends. My breasts had nursed two kids—they’d done their “job” and I feared they would eventually take me away from the children they’d once nourished. I’m not the kind of person who just sits back and hopes for the best—this was an opportunity to take control of my destiny. A bi-lateral mastectomy would reduce my risk of getting breast cancer by over 90% and no other preventative method comes close to that level of risk reduction. I’d made up my mind, but needed to do some more planning to ensure I received the best care possible.
While making my plans I signed up for the 2012 Avon Walk; it was another way I could take steps to fight breast cancer while methodically planning my own preventative measures. The walk was just as well-coordinated, inspiring, and empowering as the first one I’d done. And again, the outpouring of generous donations was equally as empowering…it solidified for me, once again, how many people have been affected by breast cancer and that my 39.3 miles were making a real difference.
I eventually scheduled my mastectomy/reconstruction surgery for April 2013. And I registered for the 2013 Avon Walk. By the time I walk my 39.3 miles at the end of October, I will have completed my three phases of “natural” breast reconstruction, which means not having any artificial implants used in my body (this is modern medicine at its very best). These are the steps I’ve taken…how many would you take? If you or a woman you know is at high risk for breast cancer, I cannot encourage you enough to please talk to a doctor about preventative options. And I encourage you to WALK or support a walker…it makes a REAL impact on breast cancer treatment and research!