Interview with a Breast Cancer Survivor Part 1: Detection and Diagnosis
In light of Pink October and Breast Cancer Awareness, we spoke to breast cancer survivor, Maria Camilleri*, who was willing to share her story and, in doing so, give readers an insight into her experience as well as an understanding of what to expect should they ever be diagnosed with breast cancer.
The Lump was Quite Noticeable
It wasn’t long after she had started waking up in the middle of the night in bags of sweat, that Maria noticed a lump on the side of her right breast. “The lump was quite noticeable, since it was at the side of my breast right under my armpit. It felt quite hard, and you could feel it move in place under my skin. Other than that, I don’t remember having any other symptoms such as itchy breasts or nipple discharge, but each case is different. However, if I do think about it, I remember feeling quite tired and had to nap regularly which wasn’t usually the case.”
The day after feeling the lump, Maria consulted her general practitioner who examined her and immediately referred her to a specialist to conduct a mammogram in order to ascertain whether the lump of breast tissue cells that she had felt was indeed cancerous or not. A mammogram is ultimately an x-ray but is specifically of the breast. It would allow Maria’s doctors to examine her breast tissue clearly, and when done for screening purposes can even show a lump before it can be felt.
Going for the Mammogram
Maria didn’t want to wait long to have a mammogram done, and so decided to visit a radiographer privately. After examining the breast tissue in the lump, the doctor seemed to be quite confident that the cells were not malignant. “I was quite relieved to hear that the doctor thought that the lump was nothing and that I could go on with my life.”
A year later, a few months after turning forty, Maria still felt that something wasn’t right. Thinking of her two young children at home, she decided to go to a different radiographer for a second opinion and perhaps undergo more tests. The doctor performed a procedure referred to as a Fine Needle Aspiration – a type of biopsy in which the doctor removes breast tissue and examines it for breast cancer cells – whereby he extracted a few cells for testing.
Upon examining the cells, the radiographer informed Maria that the results were negative, but, as a preventive measure, he suggested that she should undergo another mammogram in 6 months’ time to monitor any changes. After this second mammogram, Maria was told that the lump of breast tissue cells, known as Fibroadenoma, was probably nothing but in order to be completely sure that it wasn’t harmful, her doctor suggested that the lump should be removed by means of a lumpectomy.
“Following the lumpectomy, whilst I was still in recovery, the surgeon told my husband that they would need to send the cells to the lab for testing, as they would only be sure whether it was cancerous or not once the lab sent back the results, but he assured my husband that it looked like there was nothing to worry about”.
No more than five days later, the results from Maria’s lumpectomy came back resulting in a positive test for cancer. “My kids were still relatively young at the time –12 and 14 – and I just remember thinking that I would never get to see them graduate or get married. Luckily I was wrong.”
Read the rest of Maria’s story on our next few posts.
In the meantime, if you would like to enquire about health insurance that covers oncologist fees and cancer treatment, as well as insurance that covers preventative care, speak to our health team today.
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
Maria’s story occurs in 2001 and procedures might have changed from the time when Maria was diagnosed as well as technical details may be slightly inaccurate as they are recalled from memory.