Rarely a day goes by that I don’t give profound thanks for the fluke that allowed me to find my breast cancer before it was too late.
I found my breast cancer by accident in November 2015 when I stayed at a hotel that didn’t have those shower puffs I use at home. I hopped into the shower as I prepared for a busy day at a conference. I grabbed the hotel bar of soap. My soapy hand grazed over the underside of my left breast and there it was. The dreaded lump. And it was big – just a wee bit smaller than a golf ball.
How the hell did I not notice that before? I poked and prodded at it as if that would make it go away. I swallowed my panic. It can’t be cancer, I told myself. It’s just a cyst. It’s fine.
I just had a clear mammogram five months earlier for God’s sake.
It turned out not to be fine. It was cancer and all I could think was: this cannot be happening to me. I have two daughters who need me. I’m too young. My grandmother had breast cancer, but it doesn’t really run in our family. Neither my mom nor her seven sisters or any of their cousins have had breast cancer. I’m pretty active. I eat well. I use chemical-free shampoos and creams.
It turns out that I am one of about 81,000 New Brunswick women over the age of 40 who have dense breasts. I did not know I had dense breasts. I also did not know having dense breasts meant I had a higher chance of developing breast cancer and that it would be harder to detect on a mammogram. Both dense breast tissue and cancer appear white on a mammogram. I didn’t know I shouldn’t trust that mammogram as much as I did. I didn’t know that a cluster of aggressive cancer cells that could not reasonably be seen on my mammogram was multiplying in my left breast.
I’ve been to Hell and back since then – breast surgery, 16 rounds of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and now hormone therapy. Cancer recovery has been hellish hard, and I struggle with the fear of my cancer coming back, but thankfully I have a good prognosis. I remain haunted, though, by the thought of what would have happened if I didn’t go to that hotel without the puff? What if I didn’t find the lump for another several months? What if the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and bones?
Now I am on a mission to raise awareness about breast density. I want to help prevent other New Brunswick women from leaving their breast health to chance like I did.
Kathy Kaufield is an award-winning political reporter, columnist and news editor who now works as a freelance writer and communications consultant.