Most everyone knows someone whose life has been impacted by cancer, but they never expect it to happen to them. Nearly 44,000 women and men in the United States are expected to die from breast cancer in 2022, according to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website, komen.org. The majority of those deaths result from metastatic breast cancer. In November of 2015, I was faced with the phone call that no one ever wants to receive.
I did what every woman my age was told to do each year: Get a mammogram and do self-checking breast exams regularly. A breast self-exam (BSE) is a step-by-step approach a woman can use to look at and feel her breasts to check for anything abnormal. Although I regularly performed BSEs, I never felt any lumps or had any type of pain that would have signaled any issues. The Susan G. Komen Foundation now states that a BSE isn’t recommended as a screening tool for breast cancer. Although it seemed promising when it was first introduced, the website says that studies have shown that a BSE doesn’t offer the early detection and survival benefits of other screening tests.
For me, November 2015 is a time stamp I will never forget. A call came in that would change my life forever. After having a routine mammogram, I was asked by my doctor to come in to have more detailed imaging of my breasts. After a few days had passed, I was informed that I would need to have a biopsy of my right breast as something on the X-rays appeared to show some indications of a crystallization. A biopsy, according to the Komen website, removes cells or tissue from a suspicious area in the breast. The cells or tissue are them studied under a microscope to see if cancer is present.
The time I spent waiting for the results was torturous! After several days that seemed to pass more slowly than normal, I received a call from my doctor, who told me that I was in the early stages of breast cancer. I was devastated. We were in the process of moving from Phoenix, Ariz., back to Athens, Ga., and then my world just stopped. I was relieved when my trusted doctor in Arizona told me that they could provide the care I needed prior to when I had planned to move to Georgia. I was hopeful. I quickly proceeded with the necessary surgery to remove the tumor, then began radiation treatments.
It wasn’t full breast radiation; it was radiation seeds that went directly into the site of where the tumor was removed. I went twice a day for seven days, and I was done. Once my treatments were complete, I was encouraged. Expecting this to be the end of the cancer journey, my husband and I began to move to Georgia.
One short year later, during another routine mammogram, I was shocked to hear the news that another cancerous spot was found in my left breast. I couldn’t believe it! I had my biopsy. The cancer was back in the other breast, and it was even more aggressive. The Komen Foundation explains that breast cancer survivors have an increased risk of getting a new breast cancer compared to people who have never had breast cancer. They explain that a new breast cancer is called a second primary breast cancer. Unlike a recurrence, which is a return of the first breast cancer, a second primary tumor is a new cancer unrelated to the first. I vividly remember the words my surgeon then said to me: “You need to look at this as life or death, and I won’t do a single mastectomy, only a double mastectomy.” I was paralyzed with fear, and the only thing that was moving on my body were the tears coming from my eyes. To say I was devastated was an understatement. I decided to heed the advice of my surgeon and proceed with the double mastectomy.
My next step was to call my boss, Lonnie Bickford, and let him know what was going on. I still remember his exact words to me: “I was afraid it was back but do whatever it takes to get well and let me know what you need.”
I was relieved at his response. To have the support of my employer was just priceless for me. I knew that it would take some time to heal, but I was ready to move forward. Bickford has since founded StorageGives, a philanthropist organization that allows self-storage owners and operators to give back and make positive impacts on those who need help both in the U.S. and around the globe. This is done by designating a percentage of auction proceeds to be donated to charities that have been vetted by him and Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the largest community fund in the United States. StorageGives also offers the ability to give directly on StorageGives.org. I am proud to be a part of his team and honored that one of the charities the organization supports is Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
As the surgery date came closer, I was understandably afraid and did not know what to expect. After six long hours in surgery, the surgeons were pleased with how it went. I was finally in a room and working toward recovery. I remember when they took off my bandages and I heard my husband for the first time say, “It doesn’t look that bad.” If you haven’t seen anyone with a double mastectomy before, the started reconstruction makes you feel like there is a big lump in your stomach; it is devastating to see it, along with tubes hanging out of both sides for drainage.
Although the surgery was complete, the recovery was just beginning. I went through months and months of recovery, including having 50 CCs of saline injected into the metal spacers in my breasts each week. In retrospect, I may not have had the reconstructive surgery if I had known what I know now. I don’t think I really knew how painful this process would be, because I might have thought twice about reconstruction.
Thankfully, I now continue to remain completely cancer-free. I continue to see my doctors on a regular basis, but I won’t ever need another mammogram again. I am proud to be a part of StorageGives and feel honored that Susan G. Komen benefits from the donations made through this organization. As Bickford says on the organization’s website, StorageGives.org, “We are facilitating a platform to connect the storage industry to worthy causes to make an impact in lives all over the world.”
As I reflect over my journey with breast cancer, I can’t emphasize the importance of mammograms. encourage females to get mammograms because early detection is critical. For anyone who has given to Susan G. Komen or any other breast cancer research, thank you! Thank you, because without your support or contributions, I might not be alive today!
For more information about how to participate in StorageGives, visit StorageGives.org or email donna@StorageAuctions.com. Information and resources about breast cancer are provided by the Susan G. Komen foundation at komen.org.