I believe that we are each sent to this earthly life with work that we need to do to make the world a better place for all of G‑d's creations. To do this work we must protect and care for our bodies (the vessels) that we have been sent here with. I believe it is our responsibility to protect our bodies as best we can.

To that end, every year I schedule my breast exam, mammogram, breast ultrasound, etc. as close to my birthday as possible. This appointment is usually made a year in advance to make sure I get the date I want. It's my personal guarantee that I don't forget and is done on time. This is in addition to my monthly self-exam, (something my physician has carefully shown me how to do), which I do when I prepare for the mikvah, . My mother was a breast cancer survivor because she caught her own lump early and followed up quickly. Two of my good friends with small children didn't and both lost their fights.

It is our responsibility to protect our bodies as best we canOn my forty-ninth birthday last year, I decided that I would make the appointment for my mammogram a month earlier than usual. I felt that I didn't want to spend my fiftieth birthday in the doctor's office. As luck would have it, my father decided to take my husband and me on a cruise as my birthday gift, one month before my birthday. When I called to reschedule my appointment I was told I was going to have to wait several months for the next available date. They suggested that when I return from my vacation, I should call each day to check for cancellations and they would try to fit me in. At that point, my vacation was more important to me than the appointment so I decided to file it in my head and have a great trip.

As we cruised the Caribbean I happened to do my monthly breast exam and found a lump (not an unusual occurrence on my breasts), but again, nothing was getting in the way of my fun. We had a fabulous time and returned home.

A few days before my birthday I noticed that I was very sore around my bra line - a quick feel and that small lump I found on the cruise was massive and painful. I quickly called the breast surgeon, who couldn't see me for several weeks. I called another surgeon who was recommended but he was also booked. I told the woman who answered the phone that I would sit by the phone all day if necessary, in case there would be a cancellation which I could fill. Sure enough, not half an hour went by and she called to say I could come over right then. I threw on my coat and ran.

The doctor did a needle biopsy (painless - I have had them before) in his office, looked at the fluid and assured me that this was nothing. The liquid was clear and had no sign of anything that would even need to be checked in the lab. The only concern he had was that my appointment for my mammogram and breast ultrasound had been pushed off so long. By the end of the day, he had secured me a new appointment and, of course, it was on the day of my fiftieth birthday. So much for having planned a year in advance to not have the exam on my birthday!

The biopsy showed very early signs of non-invasive breast cancerFebruary twenty-third, my birthday, I showed up for my mammogram. The exam showed suspicious spots and it indicated that a biopsy was necessary. Two days later, the biopsy showed very early signs of non-invasive breast cancer. A few days after that, I had a lumpectomy. I was told that six weeks of five-day-a-week radiation and five years of the chemotherapy drug tomixifin would be the required follow-up treatment. Although the follow-up treatment didn't appeal to me, I hadn't been offered any other options.

Several days after the lumpectomy, the biopsy results came back. They hadn't gotten all the cancer. I was told that they would have to operate again in the hope that they would get it all this time. I decided it was time to go to a breast specialist and have additional genetic testing. The breast doctor showed me the x-rays of both breasts and explained why it was difficult in my case to be sure of the margins when doing the lumpectomy. There was even a chance that after a second lumpectomy, the margins might not be clean. In other words, the cancer would still be there. She also pointed out how the tissue surrounding the cancer appeared dense. She told me that the type of tissue found prior to this type of cancer looked like that. Then I looked at the second x-ray and the same type of dense tissue was in the other breast too. She told me it was possible that my second breast would develop the same cancer.

Than I got the results of the genetic tests which were negative. This meant that I didn't carry the "Jewish Cancer Gene." The appearance of this gene raises the statistical chance of ovarian, uterine and breast cancer. Once a woman has signs of breast cancer or if there is a high rate of breast cancer in the family, this test is often recommended. The counselor gave me some suggestions of treatment options. She also had statistical information that helped sort out my choices. With the help of the breast surgeon and the genetic counselor I now had more information to make an informed decision.

I chose to have a double mastectomy instead of another lumpectomy. I wouldn't need any follow-up treatment, no radiation or chemo, I would be cancer free and wouldn't have to worry about the future of the suspicious-looking second breast. It was only several days after surgery, that the biopsy came back on the second breast, the one that had no sign of cancer. It turned out that it was producing the first stages of cancer cells and within the next few years would have grown large enough to be seen with a mammogram.

Along with the double mastectomy, I underwent reconstructive surgery. The extra time I had given myself to do research had offered me the opportunity to talk to women and see the amazing results that were available through plastic surgery. I have now completed the second stage of reconstruction, I am cancer free, getting my energy back and as I reflect back, I realize I have learned many lessons.

  1. G‑d has blessed us as women with amazing strengthTrust in G‑d and then be your own advocate. I insisted on being put on the waiting list in case there was a cancellation. Amazingly, there was and I got in to see the doctor the day I called. Furthermore, I did my research and came up with a plan that allowed me to protect my body, my G‑d given vessel.
  2. Know your body and keep to an exact schedule when checking it. If you find something that doesn't belong, see a doctor right away. G‑d has blessed us as women with amazing strength - we carry babies, give birth, raise them and there isn't anything we wouldn't do to protect and care for them. We need to do the same for ourselves! Just like we use our intuition with our children, we need to use this sense for protecting and caring for ourselves.
  3. If you don't like the answer you get from your doctor, insist on further testing or go to another doctor and get another opinion. I know too many women who listened to the doctor when he or she said "let's just keep an eye on it" - and a year later, it had spread. Remember it's your body, you are responsible for it.
  4. Listen to your intuition and get all the facts. My intuition said to have both breasts removed and I haven't had a moments regret.
  5. Lots of things aren't in our hands. After you advocate for yourself, get the best medical advice and information that you can, but in the end you need to trust that G‑d will take care of the rest. When my mammogram date ended up on my birthday, I felt it was a sign from Above, G‑d was watching out for me.
  6. In the end, I look at my results as a gift from G‑d. So many women have a much more difficult prognosis and treatment regime than I had. I am grateful to have had such an easy time with it, to be recovering well and to be getting on with life.

There had been a time in my younger years when I would have been terrified at this process. Those were the days when I thought I was alone and weak. Now I step back and look at the big book of life. This is just another page in that book. As I look at each page, I see there were greater and lesser challenges, but at each step, G‑d was at my side, giving me strength, offering me hints, creating miracles. Now I will go forward to write new pages and offer my experiences to others in the hope that they too will find strength.