Last year, I was pretending a lot more than usual.
What I didn’t share was what happened that afternoon, after this photo was taken. When I was still wearing this Belle costume while meeting with my genetic counselor. And while getting pre-op x-rays and bloodwork done.
Because the next morning, one year ago today, I had breast cancer surgery.
If Halloween is my New Year's Eve, November 1 is my New Year’s Day, because it felt like the day I finally got to fight back.
It’s ironic that this all happened last October, which is breast cancer awareness month. I had always hated the pink ribbons, the hoopla. I had so many family members devastated by all sorts of cancers...why make such a big deal about this one? I now know why. . .because it’s one of the easiest cancers to spot early, but only if you go in for your screenings. Public awareness is key.
You’re hearing about this for the first time today because I made the decision to not tell anyone. The thought of having to relive my diagnosis a dozen times a day with worried students, teachers, and friends was almost as terrifying as getting diagnosed. I have a fantastic family, some close friends, and an understanding school administration who gave me all of the support I needed to get through the past year. This placed an unbelievable burden on them that was perhaps unfair of me to ask, but I am so grateful they respected my wishes. It helped me mentally and emotionally to be able to live a “normal” life during the day, and deal with my health issues in private after the last bell rang.
Since my diagnosis was the best possible one (low grade DCIS or ductal carcinoma in-situ, Stage 0, ER+, and no genetic mutation, for the curious) my treatments were manageable without it impacting my life as much as it could have. I got to skip chemo, had a small lumpectomy, radiation, and am now on hormone therapy for five years to keep it from coming back. I am blessed beyond reason, and struggle now only with the guilt that comes with having had a much easier road than others, and how to best show my appreciation for this second chance I’ve been given.
That starts today in sharing my story, in hopes that it may save one of you, or someone you love, someday. Every year my doctor would remind me I was past the time for my mammogram. And every year I would put it off.
Last year was different because of a college roommate who died of breast cancer the year before. I remember thinking, “For Kerri, I’ll go.” I called and made an appointment before I could talk myself out of it. That very first mammogram is what found this at a very treatable stage, before there was any evidence something was wrong.
Let me anticipate the excuses now running through your mind, because I used them for years:
You have no family history
If you’re related to me, that excuse is now toast. You may very well have someone diagnosed in your family that you didn't know about, like me, because often it isn't talked about. And other cancers can be related to breast cancer, so don’t assume it doesn’t run in your family. Despite our family history of cancer my genetic tests came back negative, but it could easily be a mutation they haven’t discovered yet.
You’re too young
I know recent guidelines say you could wait, but you have the right to get screened starting at 40. If you have a family history, you should start getting mammograms 10 years before the youngest person was diagnosed. That’s 34 for all of you that are related to me.
You are too busy
It takes 15 minutes. Maybe a little longer during the pink ribbon campaigns because a lot of people go in then. . .but they give you treats, so it’s worth the wait!
So many people have now seen a whole lot more of me than I’m comfortable with after the past year of appointments and guess what? They are professionals. It’s no big deal to anybody but you.
Make the call right now, before you talk yourself out of it
I’m going to make it easy for you: if you are in Utah County, here are our local mammography departments. You don’t even have to look up the phone number!
- American Fork Hospital 801-855-3350
- Orem Community Hospital 801-714-3332
- Timpanogos Hospital 801-714-6600
- Utah Valley Hospital 801-357-3165
And here’s this year’s Halloween costume: Jane from Tarzan. I wanted my costume this year to be symbolic of embracing the unexpected, putting the past behind me, and being ready for whatever adventure is ahead!