My Breast Cancer Survivor Story
BY NANCY RAHNER
Pink! Pink! Pink!
“I am so sick of seeing pink ribbons everywhere!” I told my husband after a trip to the grocery store. “I can’t get away from the fact that I have breast cancer.”
The worst month to get diagnosed with breast cancer is October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, because, hello, it is in your face everywhere, from pink food labels to football players wearing pink to pink ice cream.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer on Sept. 28, 2012. Thirteen days earlier, I had gone for my annual mammogram and skin check at Ellis Fischel. I told my husband, George, I would be home by lunch — little did I know.
When I arrived at my appointment, I changed into the fluffy robe and waited for the tech to take me to that dreaded squeeze machine. I’m small-breasted, so the techs always have a hard time. The tech took pictures of both breasts, and then I stood there as she reviewed the pictures. She said she needed to take some more pictures of my right breast.
“She must be having trouble getting a good picture of my small boob,” I thought.
This time was more intense, and she even put her hand on my back as the machine squeezed harder. “Take some deep breaths,” she said. She then asked me if I had any other appointments that day, and I told her I would be seeing the nurse for a skin check. She asked me to come back after that appointment. Still, I didn’t register a potential problem.
The nurse who did my skin check examined my breasts and could not feel anything suspicious. Back at the breast center, they said they wanted to do an ultrasound because they saw something on the mammo. That was when the first pang of fear hit me. “But,” I told myself, “surely it’s nothing.” After the sonogram, a young handsome doctor who looked like a high schooler came in and told me they had found a spot they would like to biopsy. At this point, I felt like I was in a movie and that it wasn’t me they were talking about. I shut down my emotions and matter-of-factly said: “OK. Let’s do the biopsy and get this over.”
I soon learned there is nothing speedy about diagnosis, treatment or recovery. It took 10 days of excruciating waiting before I could get a biopsy scheduled. As a retired school teacher, I told them I could come in at any time, but the soonest available was Sept. 25, my youngest daughter’s birthday. I thought that would be good luck. Not so — on Sept. 28, my primary doctor called and said those dreaded words, “The results are cancer.”
The wheels started spinning, and the questions, and decisions. I got an appointment the following week with an oncologist, Dr. Mary Muscato of Missouri Cancer Associates, and thank goodness, my husband was able to go with me. Into my small exam room entered the doctor, a resident, a nurse educator and a nurse, all dressed in their pink something, either a pink tie, pink shirt or pink scrub. After all, this was Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The information came fast and furious, and decisions had to made, and whoa, is this really happening? Lumpectomy, mastectomy, reconstruction, no reconstruction, chemo, radiation. I realized this was a battle I could not do on my own. I am fortunate to have loving, supportive family and friends. I am a prayerful person and immediately turned to God to ask for direction and insight. I was at peace with choosing a mastectomy of my right breast without reconstruction. Having one surgery was all I could handle at the time, and I could always do reconstruction later. My husband was very supportive of my decision.
I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, with positive estrogen receptor and positive progesterone receptor. I had three lymph nodes removed, which were all negative for cancer. The tumor was sent off for a test that would predict the chance of recurrence, and two weeks after surgery, I learned I needed chemo.
My confidence in Dr. Muscato, a breast cancer survivor herself, helped me face my worst fear, chemo. Her advice about putting my nails and toenails in ice while receiving my treatment to prevent me from losing my nails, was appreciated. Having had breast cancer herself, she was able to sense my fears and concerns, and she advised me with utmost care and compassion.
I was fortunate that I never got sick from the chemo. Dr. Karen Onofrio, who teaches energy medicine, taught my husband how to do the Brazilian Toe, a technique for total relaxation and release of toxins. I am confident that a positive attitude and openness to healing and well-being has gotten me to where I am today. During my first treatment, Karen told me to visualize chemo as my friend and that it was going to do its job in killing any leftover cancer cells.
Today, I consider myself cancer-free. I continue to take an estrogen blocker, which causes some bone and muscle aches, but overall, I’m feeling healthy. This past summer, my husband and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary with a trip to Ireland and Scotland. We have a trip to Sedona, Ariz., planned for February. We want to embrace our good health, and we both enjoy traveling. I have made diet and exercise a priority, as well as meditation.
I am involved with Susan G. Komen and I volunteer for the American Cancer Society, helping women choose wigs in the patient service center at Missouri Cancer Associates. My co-volunteers are all cancer survivors, and I feel this gives patients hope that life will go on.
My family and friends were my inspiration to keep on going. My two girls, who were both studying to be nurses, not only nursed me through my drains and chemo but were also my cheerleaders. My son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter were with me, just hanging out doing puzzles when I was too tired to go anywhere. My husband was always there, holding my hand and telling me I was beautiful, even when I was bald and now curly and gray. This special time with family gave me strength to fight and to become a survivor.
I am a survivor and now have a pink streak in my gray hair, which shows I am proud of the journey I experienced with breast cancer and live each day with a new appreciation and thankfulness. Each day is a blessing, and we are here to share our love with those around us.
This October, I will wear pink proudly and encourage everyone I know to get their mammograms. Breast cancer has no barriers, and as women, we must educate and support each other until a cure is found!
Go pink! Let’s find a cure!
Do You Have Dense Breasts?
Why You Need To Know
BY ANITA NEAL HARRISON
One of the most alarming moments for Nancy Rahner in her breast cancer journey came when her oncologist, Mary Muscato, asked if she knew she had dense breasts. When Rahner said no and asked what that meant, Muscato showed her the radiologist report of her previous mammograms. Up top, Rahner saw a disclaimer of sorts saying due to the denseness of her breasts, a mammogram might not be an accurate diagnostic test.
Muscato explained that dense breast tissue is white on mammograms, the same color as a tumor, so tumors can easily hide. As a result, a sonogram or MRI is a more accurate test for early detection of most breast cancers in dense breasts.
“I thought, ‘Why hasn’t someone told me?’ ” Rahner says.
The New Law
Rahner isn’t alone in thinking more women need to be aware of the limits of mammograms for dense breasts. This summer, Gov. Jay Nixon signed a law that starting Jan. 1, will require mammography facilities to notify women about the possible need for supplemental screening tests.
At first glance, it appears the new law requires mammography facilities to inform women with dense breasts of their condition, but it does not. All patients, regardless of their breast density, will receive the same notice — that if their mammograms reveal dense breast tissue and if they have other risk factors, they might benefit from supplemental screening — so it is still up to patients to ask if their mammograms reveal dense breasts.
Once a woman knows she has dense breasts, there are actions for her to take.
- Continue regular mammogram screening. Rahner’s story illustrates that mammograms are far from useless for women with dense breasts. A routine mammogram caught her cancer.
“Mammograms are the best thing we have for screening,” says Dr. Mary Muscato, “ and they are also the only way to see noninvasive cancer called DCIS, ductal carcinoma in situ.”
The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms starting at age 40.
- Make your mammograms 3D. Where film mammograms once provided just four images — two for each breast — new 3D mammography using tomosynthesis provides up to 100, says Dr. Terry Elwing, a radiologist and the director of Boone Hospital’s Harris Breast Center.
“I really think the push should be to do the highest quality mammogram we can do for every patient,” she adds.
In Columbia, 3D mammography is available at Boone Hospital’s Stewart Cancer Center, Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, MU’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and University Physicians-Green Meadows clinic.
- Don’t be overly concerned. Dense breast tissue is a relatively common condition. The new law is not meant to cause alarm but to raise awareness and to promote women’s discussions with their physicians about the presence of other risk factors, in addition to dense breast tissue.
- Talk to your doctor. Your doctor can look at your medical history for anything else increasing your risk for breast cancer and decide from there what other tests, if any, are needed.
- Get further testing for any lump. “If you feel a lump, I don’t care what the mammogram shows or if it shows nothing, you have to get that lump investigated,” Muscato says. “Some people unfortunately would say, ‘Oh, the mammogram is fine, so don’t worry about the lump.’ That’s never the right answer. Any lump needs to be investigated somehow, with an ultrasound, biopsy, MRI, another mammogram — something.”
The Mid-Missouri Breast Cancer Awareness Group meets at 6 p.m. the second Wednesday of every month in the kitchen demonstration room of the Hy-Vee on Nifong.
“Kathy Windmoeller, the coordinator, brings in speakers, and we learn from each other about the latest research,” Nancy Rahner says. “Most of all we are there for each other.”
Call Windmoeller at 573-443-0622 for more information.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Join the campaign to raise breast cancer awareness at these events.
A very pink event, the 11th Annual American Cancer Society Pink Ribbon Golf Tournament is a four-woman scramble at the Redfield Golf & Country Club in Eugene. Open only to women, the tournament includes a light breakfast during registration, fun games at a few holes, a box lunch and prizes, all chosen with women in mind. $400 per team; registration at 9 a.m., tee off at 10 a.m.; 14005 Redfield Dr., Eugene; 573-635-4839
The Susan G. Komen Mid-Missouri Race for the Cure®, which begins at Peace Park, raises funds and awareness for the fight against breast cancer, celebrates breast cancer survivorship and honors those who have lost their battle with the disease. Not a runner? Participate by walking the 5K or 1-mile fun course or sleeping in for the cure. $30 online registration for adults for main race, cost of other events vary; registration at 6 a.m., race starts at 8 a.m.; Elm and Sixth streets; 573-445-1905; http://komenmidmissouri.org
The 7th Annual American Cancer Society Pink Up the Pace 5K is a race for the entire family. The race starts in front of YoYums in downtown Jefferson City. There are no obstacles but a few hills. All participants receive a T-shirt, and there are prizes for runners and walkers. $20; 2 p.m.; 122 E. High St.; 573-635-4839
Every October, “pink warriors” paint hundreds of pumpkins pink and decorate them in Alisha’s Pink Pumpkin Painting Party. The pink pumpkins are then given away, with the hope that women who see them around town will be encouraged to get their mammograms. This year, there will a lot less painting because MU Bradford Research Center has grown a patch of pink pumpkins for the pink warriors to use! Come to the research center to help decorate the pink pumpkins with bling. Donations will be accepted for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Society’s Mammogram Fund. Free, donations accepted; 1 to 5 p.m. or while supplies last; 4968 S. Rangeline Road; www.Facebook.com/PinkPumpkinParty/