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By K.L. Vantran, American Forces Press Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md., Oct. 7, 2009 – After a two-year battle with breast and ovarian cancers, once again I find myself sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting to get a mammogram.

The office is empty; I’m the first appointment of the day and I can’t seem to keep from nervously tapping my feet on the floor.

My mammogram checkups are in October -- National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I didn’t plan it that way, it just happened.

Statistics show that early detection increases a person’s chance for survival. So, although it may seem uncomfortable and inconvenient, I encourage everyone to schedule their annual mammogram.

Without one, I’m not sure I’d still be here to share my story.

Before my diagnosis, a routine mammogram was just that -- routine. In October 2007 that all changed. I had no symptoms, no lumps, but the doctors discovered cancer in my left breast. Subsequent tests found ovarian cancer throughout my abdomen.

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I’ve been on quite a rollercoaster ride since -- battling both cancers. I’ve had a dozen surgeries, two rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, a colonoscopy, numerous
imaging scans, blood transfusions and weekly blood work.

Since the conventional chemo has weakened my body and there’s still evidence of ovarian cancer, the doctors are working to get me into a study with a new drug – Avastin -- through the National Institutes of Health.

To that end, last week, the surgeon put stents between my kidneys and bladder to improve my kidney function – a prerequisite for the NIH study.

Today is a routine follow up. My breast cancer has been under control since after the first round of chemo and radiation -- it’s the ovarian cancer that we’re still fighting. I hope there are no surprises, but over the last 24 months I’ve learned to expect the unexpected.

When I first heard “you have cancer,” my whole world changed.

I was no longer “invincible.” I became one of the many with this debilitating disease.

Even when I beat this dreaded disease, I’m bound to wonder if/when it will rear its ugly head again.

The last two years have been full of doubts, fears, tears and uncertainty. But, I’ve also learned a lot about myself, family and friends.

Since I was first diagnosed, family and friends have rallied by my side providing love, support and encouragement. I am so very fortunate and count my blessings often.

There have been many days when I felt terrible and couldn’t get out of bed. I’ve come to begrudgingly accept my limitations and rest when my body tells me to.

On the other hand, I’ve learned to not take life for granted. When I’m feeling well or even not so well, I want to get out, to explore, to see family and friends. I’m fortunate that I still can.

Since I’m a cancer survivor, the doctors now order a “diagnostic mammogram.” This means once the films are taken, I wait until a doctor sees them. If there’s something that looks suspicious, then I’d have to undergo further testing.

Back to the doctor’s office, and I’ve just filled out my form. You’d think they’d have the answers to these questions somewhere in my file already. And here’s the technician to call me back. I put on my gown (opening in front) and then sit back in a chair to wait for the machine to boot up -- perks of being the first patient of the day.

The technician says the machine is up, so I follow her back to the room. She apologizes for the delay and her cold hands as she positions me and my breasts for the X-rays. We chat as the machine squishes my breasts and takes the images. She’s a new grandma of a little girl. And I tell her about my recent trip to Alaska. Once done, she says to sit in the chair while she runs the pictures back to the doctor to read.

I start to count the tiles on the ceiling as I wait for the technician’s return. She rounds the corner, smiles and says “Everything looks fine. We’ll see you in six months.” I let out a sigh, change my clothes and head home – to call my loved ones with the good news.


Related Sites:
Cancer Awareness: One Woman’s Story
National Navy Medical Center Bethesda Oncology
Walter Reed Army Medical Center Oncology
American Cancer Society


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