It’s Pam Nelson’s advice for women to have mammograms during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October and at all times.
“I was the last person I thought would have cancer,” Nelson said, describing her shock upon learning in March that she had some form of breast cancer.
After all, the Crosslake, Minnesota resident exercises daily and eats healthy, clean foods, all with the goal and expectation of staying healthy.
“I just did everything I thought would keep me healthy,” she said.
During a routine appointment, her nurse practitioner urged her to have a mammogram. Nelson, 56, had not had one for many years because she and her husband, Rob, are self-employed and did not have employer’s health insurance.
She therefore postponed annual mammograms.
“She rushed me this year. I said, ‘I’ll call for the cost,’ ”Nelson said. A mammogram was not as expensive as she had expected, so Nelson had a mammogram in early March.
– Pam Nelson, Crosslake
The x-ray results came back a little suspect and Nelson had another mammogram for an enlarged view. She wasn’t too worried.
Then she learned that the results were still suspect and that they wanted to do a biopsy to collect tissue for analysis. Now she was afraid.
One Friday in March, she learned that she had DCIS – ductal carcinoma in situ. Nelson explained that she did not have cancerous masses. On the contrary, the cancer was in the milk ducts of the breast and had not yet burst into lumps.
DCIS is mostly found in mammograms and not typically in breast self-exams, as there are no lumps to be felt. Small calcium deposits appear as small white spots on the mammogram around where cancer may be hiding.
Nelson’s breast cancer was stage 0 – the earliest possible stage – because it had not burst from the milk ducts. But the cells were of high quality. She learned that the cancer grows slowly and is not aggressive.
According to the American Cancer Society, about one in five new breast cancers will be DCIS, and almost all women with this early stage of breast cancer can be cured. In DCIS, the cells that line the ducts turned into cancer cells, but they did not spread through the walls of the ducts into nearby breast tissue.
The medical staff wanted to schedule surgery. Nelson took the weekend to process the information and do his own research. She has learned that this type of breast cancer may never exit the milk ducts and become invasive cancer, but the possibility exists.
She struggled, preferring natural healing, but ultimately chose the path of science. She had two surgeries, both to remove as much tissue containing cancer cells as possible, followed by 20 radiation treatments.
They are convinced that the cancer cells are gone.
“Right now I’m on medication and also doing all I can naturally between food and supplements and teas and the different ways to detox my body,” Nelson said.
Nelson reiterated that the key to her breast cancer journey is to get tested, even if you think you are in good health.
“You don’t know. You can’t always use it as a gauge, ”she said of her firsthand experience.
In her case, a late mammogram led to early detection of the cancer.
She sent a note thanking her nurse practitioner for pushing Nelson to schedule a mammogram.
“People tend to postpone their mammograms. Unfortunately, they just don’t want to do them, ”Nelson said, either because they’re uncomfortable or because of the cost.
“Go get tested. Don’t rely on a home breast exam. If you detect it that way and find a track, it’s already out, ”Nelson said.
When to consult a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any change in your breasts, such as a lump, wrinkled or unusual area of skin, a thickened area under the skin, or discharge from the nipple.
Ask your doctor when to consider breast cancer screening and how often it should be repeated. Most groups recommend that you consider routine breast cancer screening from your 40s. Talk to your doctor about which plan is right for you.