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At Total Woman Gym + Spa where I work, we're wearing our pink
shirts in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And nearly every morning
talk show is dedicating time to highlighting the stories and journeys of people
who have survived breast cancer due to early detection.
While this month's programs and events will be
highlighting the experiences of survivors and the victories they embraced, I'm
curious: Will you be doing the very simple thing of self-examination?
Two years ago, while lying on my sofa, watching television, I
found a small knot in my breast, a lump. I had just skipped a mammogram, as
there had been lots of news indicating that women under 50 no longer need to be screened for breast cancer.
But slightly concerned from the lump, I decided to have the
mammogram, which showed that I have a cluster of cysts and they would need to
be examined more closely to determine their nature. I was then sent to the
radiation department where I received an ultrasound exam. The cysts were not
dangerous, but they would need to be observed for two years, every six months.
Six months later, I was back in the radiation department getting
another ultrasound followed by a biopsy. The biopsy results concluded the cells
within the cyst were Atypical
Ductal Hyperplasia of the Right Breast. From
there I was sent to see a surgeon. I declined his recommendation that I have
the cyst surgically removed, because I don't take lightly to having my body cut
for any reason.
I dealt with great resistance from a few of my friends and my primary care physician. But I felt that I needed to do what I could to assist my body in healing before going under the knife.
After a second opinion and several conversations with medical
professionals, I felt safe choosing a less traditional form of healing.
Immediately I began cleaning up my diet; I started a regimen of Chinese herbs
and weekly acupuncture treatments. This path was rigorous, and I dealt with great
resistance from a few of my friends and my primary care physician. But I felt
that I needed to do what I could to assist my body in healing before going
under the knife.
When I returned to the doctor for my next six-month visit,
the results showed the cyst was still there, but there was no sign of blood
within it. With this information I asked my doctor for another six months to
continue what I'd been doing and she agreed.
I recently had my follow-up appointment. Before returning for
that checkup, I decided to have the surgery if the cyst had not dissolved. Because in
light of the research showing that black women are at a high risk of having
aggressive forms of breast cancer, and after a friend's insistence that my
desire to heal naturally was no different from that of Steve Jobs, I opened to
Western medicine. (The Apple mastermind opted for dietary and alternative treatments instead of surgery years ago. When he did embrace surgery later, it wasn't enough to save him).
So I've scheduled the surgery to remove my cyst at the end of this month. It's a precautionary surgery to remove a noncancerous cyst that could become so. And while I'm grateful for
the media that encourages women to self-exam and to get mammograms, I have to
say that there is a lot of mixed, confusing information out there today. To
that end, I'll add a word of advice: All women, and black women particularly, should
continue to speak to their doctors for clarity before deciding to forgo a
mammogram. It just might be the step that saves your life.