Betrayed, Bewildered and Blessed

Having worked in health care since 1980, I’ve been promoting mammography for more than three decades as the single best way to find cancer in its earliest most curable stages. And I’ve had annual mammograms since I turned 40. Imagine my shock at being diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer that I discovered myself just weeks after my routine screening mammogram. According to research, my three-centimeter tumor had to have been growing for more than five years.

After my surgery, three additional cancer sites were found in the same breast, none of which had been detected by the mammogram, ultrasound, breast MRI or physician exam. At first I felt betrayed. Then I knew I’d been blessed. Here’s what I’ve learned thus far in my journey that’s making me a stronger person and a better health care marketing professional.    Betrayed: Someone said that finding cancer in dense breast tissue (like mine was) is like finding a polar bear in a blizzard. In fact, had my tumor not grown front and center, where I couldn’t help but feel it, my cancer likely would have been diagnosed at Stage III or IV. Unfortunately, when I share my story now, I find women sometimes question the value of mammography. But it’s still the best way to detect most cancers early. In fact, it found my younger sister’s bi-lateral breast cancer at Stage 0. So I now use my experience to educate women about the importance of regular mammograms but also about the challenges of dense breast tissue and the importance of breast self-exams.

Bewildered: I’ve learned so much I never knew, or had to know before, such as: There are entire professions I never knew existed, like nipple tattoo artist. I understood my hair would start falling out around day 17 after my 1st chemo. And I was prepared for it. But no one told me how much I would miss my nose hairs! Tissue expanders are like bowling balls. Just ask my parents who I hugged a bit too hard at Christmas, leaving bruises. Sharing candidly about things like this on my Caring Bridge blog was apparently helpful to others with cancer as well as to family and friends. And moving from bewilderment to humor to helping others was just plain fun.

Blessed: I saw my journey as an opportunity to experience the health care system as a consumer rather than a health professional. It’s a joy now to be able to use my experiences to help other health professionals in providing more patient-focused care. I’ve already had the opportunity to speak to 40+ health care marketing leaders and write a feature for Marketing Health Services magazine. My cancer journey frankly has been more of a blessing than a burden, giving me a new perspective on life, on health care, and on the patient experience. And moving from feelings of betrayal and bewilderment to blessing has been a most rewarding part of the journey!