What you don’t know might kill you


I noticed it before. I thought it must be an aging thing, but I would come to find out it was so much more.

It had been two and half years since my last mammogram. We had dropped our insurance, with its skyrocketing rates, because we never get sick. We just don’t need it.

Or, so we thought.

But, our fears got the best of us and in July my husband submitted all the insurance paperwork we would need for our family to be covered in case of illness or serious injury.  I decided to make an appointment to have a “yearly’ done and with that came the obligatory mammogram.  

I arrived in good spirits, jovial and joking with the techs doing my screening.  One was in training and the other was helping her to manipulate my breasts in all types of pancake fashion to smush just right for the machine to pick up what it needed to. 

I could tell at once something was not normal.  They spent a lot of time on my left breast, stretching, pulling, positioning.  Within two hours of my appointment my primary care doctor had called to tell me I needed an ultrasound right away. 

So, there I was bright and early the next morning.  Within 15 minutes from start to finish they had informed me of their “concerns” and told me I would be getting a call from the Savannah Breast Care Center to have a biopsy.

Biopsy completed, diagnosis made, Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, Stage I.  

I am only 45 how could this be?  

I always performed the self-check and never found anything unusual, well except for that one thing … But what about family history?  No one in my family has ever had breast cancer. Those were the fallacies I told myself so that I would never worry about the ‘Big C.’  

I’ve learned in recent days the things you do not know can kill you – not all breast cancers are the same.  Mine presented itself high up on the breast, not in a lump, but in a strip of toughened skin that felt more like a muscle than a tumor.  I had felt it many times before and for quite a while. I convinced myself it was nothing but age setting in.  My self-checks were only to look for lumps, pea sized, grape sized, any fruit you like sized, but I never felt any, and neither did my doctor.

It’s true, no one in my family has ever had breast cancer. But that is probably the biggest misunderstanding of the disease I had that caused me to have a flippant, carefree, attitude towards ever being diagnosed with such a thing.  

According to the American Breast Cancer Society, 85 percent of all new cases of breast cancer have no family history to this date.  Two million new cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in 2018 which means 1,700,000 of those men and women had no family history of the disease. 

My advice to you?  Get checked.  

Do your research.  Listen to your body.  Don’t ever feel like your doctor will think you are crazy because of your age or your symptoms.  And if they treat you like they are … find a new doctor.  

Lumps, masses, dimpling, nipples turning, pain, redness, orange peel skin, discharge, etc.  One of these on its own could be any number of things, but don’t discount it as nothing.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  Don’t wait, make an appointment!  And remember, knowing all the signs is half the battle. Being educated is how you win the war. Get checked, there are a lot of people out there who love you and are relying on you.  Your work here is not done.

As for me.  If you pray, say some.  If you don’t, send good vibes my way.  This is only the beginning of my battle, but I am not afraid.  I have all the people in Pierce County and many, many, others looking out for me. I am blessed and well on my way to healing! 

• Stephanie Bell is executive director for Pierce County Family Connection. Email her at piercefc@gmail.com.