Wise Gurus

Anatomy of a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

October is Breast Cancer Prevention Month.  A month where we see lots of pink ribbons and fund raisers of all kinds to support the fight against breast cancer.  In the past I participated in a few 5K runs to support breast cancer fund raising organized by one of the largest beauty companies in the world.  I would go for my mammograms regularly (beginning at age 28) as I was told I needed to go every year because my grandmother died of breast cancer.  Year after year I received a clean bill of health.  I embraced health and wellness practices so I didn’t let the worry of  cancer enter my safe psyche.  “It won’t happen to me”  I said to myself  because I am healthy…


It is part of self preservation to sometimes keep scary and uncomfortable subjects at a distance. I was only a year old when my grandmother died of breast cancer. Despite later learning about my grandmother’s breast cancer I had made some internal decision that I had more of my Dad’s genes (I looked like him) and I wouldn’t end up with breast cancer. Did I take the BRCA gene test to substantiate my beliefs? Well no–not until I was diagnosed with an early stage breast cancer called DCIS just last year.

My personal journey with cancer takes more than a blog post to really share what I’ve learned from my cancer experience.  Today I attempt to share a short story that may help you understand what it is like to receive a breast cancer diagnosis and maybe even confuse you a little.  I say confuse because cancer still is the wild, wild west to the medical community.  As much as we fight, research, and raise money,  we still don’t have a definitive cure or magic vaccine to prevent cancer they way we would like to.  But visit this very good site for the best defenses we do know about. http://www.breastcancerfund.org/reduce-your-risk/breast-cancer-prevention-month/

Beyond inherited genes, why do some of us get breast cancer and others do not?  One of my best friends blurted out these words when I told her I had breast cancer, ” Who could believe, YOU the health nut ends up with cancer!”.   If you think she was shocked–I was really transported to another realm of disbelief.  I had cancer free x-rays year after year after year! I felt no lumps!  Why me and why now?  We always ask why when we hear the word cancer and we want desperately to blame something.  I am here to say that it could have been a number of things that caused my cancer but I don’t really know what specifically did.  What I do know definitively is living a healthy lifestyle reduces your chances of many diseases and you also feel good on a daily basis.  Other than this bout of cancer I am relatively healthy.  So please don’t give up eating apples!

This is not a story about pain although there was a good share of that.  I had two lumpectomies. First surgery to remove microscopic cancer cells defined as cancerous and called DCIS.  The second surgery one month later because I was told they didn’t know if they got it all and had to go back in to make sure. “A common practice” they told me.  After the second surgery I was told I was free of cancer but the recommendation was to undergo radiation for 8 weeks ( 5 days a week) to make sure the cancer never returns.  Making this decision was difficult because remember I was diagnosed with this early stage of cancer which literally looked like tiny specs on my x-ray.  Tiny specs! A wonderful inspiring book to read about cancer is  “Crazy Sexy Cancer” by Kris Carr.  It really demystifies so many of the “myths” you hear about cancer.  The author has gone on to be a respected wellness guru and really shares her passion for healthy lifestyle. Visit her site at http://kriscarr.com/

After laboriously researching my type of cancer I made a treatment decision based on my radiation oncologists last words after a long overwhelming two and a half hour consultation. He said “Laura it is basically your decision. It really depends on how much of a gambler you are. If you don’t do the radiation there is a 20% chance your cancer will return. If you do the radiation you can eliminate that worry.” At first I thought but hey there is an 80% chance I won’t get cancer! I can live with that! But then there was my family history. So the next nerve racking step was I took the BRCA gene test. And guess what? The childhood unscientific hunch I had about having my Dad’s genes was true because I tested negative for the BRCA gene. Now you would think I was home free and I could walk away from this cancer nightmare and never look back. Well…

Not exactly.  I was told by various specialist that while I don’t seem to have the BRCA gene I still may have inherited other cancer genes.  I now thought about what my doctor said about gambling and it hit home.  I realized I was still young and really didn’t want to undergo treatment ever again.  They also said if cancer returned they would have to remove the whole breast next time around.  Can you see the threats building? Can you feel the fear smoldering beneath my calm rational exterior?  Slowly but surely that 80% chance of not getting cancer again disappeared and it became all about “securing peace of mind”.  I wanted the security of knowing it would never come back.  I made up my mind to do the radiation treatment. 

In just one year since my surgeries and treatment I have learned so much about breast cancer and cancer in general.  What I am learning sometimes makes me doubt my treatment decisions because there is currently a lot of  arguments among medical scientist about over treating the early stages of cancer.  But I can’t do anything about this now.  I did what I thought was best for me at the time. 

I said to my docs as I underwent my treatments, ” Just three years from now, I bet they will have learned so much about this early stage of cancer and some other woman won’t have to make the same choices I did. I’m envious of those woman.” I also read an incredible book by Siddhartha Mukherjee called Emperor of all Maladies– A Biography of Cancer. It gave me perspective because ten years ago they might have just gone ahead and did a total mastectomy on me. Bye bye breast because of a few specs on an x-ray.  I suppose I am very lucky!


Overkill  is a literal word when it comes to treating cancer.  We should always question things and do what is right for our own particular circumstances.  My surgeon recommended a mastectomy before I even took the BRCA gene test.  Really? Yes she did!  Thank god I had a defense mechanism button that clicks on to a “stay cool” setting when I encounter “threat”.  Had my fear taken over–I might have lost my breast.  My radiation was a crap shoot in gambling terms and the chemo suggestion was communicated to me like this, “Many women like to be totally sure they have killed all the cancer so they choose to do chemo as a back up to the radiation.”  Back up?

Just Trust Yourself and You will Know How to Live…

All I can say is to be careful of the herding mentality.  “Everyone is doing it”  is not a good enough reason to decide on chemo or any other treatment.  I said “no thanks” to chemo and I’m glad I did.  This doesn’t mean if I was at another stage of cancer I would have made the same decision.  My story is just that–it is my personal story.  It’s  not a template for anyone to model yet we all look to each other  for guidance.  This isn’t an amazing “I beat cancer” story but probably a more common story of  many women like myself who face cancer diagnosis and muddle through a very traumatic experience.

Maybe this is not a story about cancer but a story about inner strength.  Sometimes the scary trials in life teach us things about ourselves and we do somehow muddle through.  I’ve learned what I can control and what I can’t.  I’ve learned what it means to be really vulnerable.  I also lost my youthful sense of invincible immortality.  The biggest lesson for me was–no matter how many people I talked to, and how much I read, I ultimately knew inside what was best for me.  The renown poet Goethe said wisely “Just trust yourself and then you will know how to live”.  So I gratefully live…trusting I will somehow always find my way.



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