In early April of this year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram.
I had dense breast tissue and was called back often for follow-ups after my yearly screenings at the Complete Breast Care Program at Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ont. This year, I was called back for a biopsy as well, and I was reluctant to go. I told them “Thanks, but I don’t think I’ll get the biopsy.” They contacted my family doctor and I think they must have told her about my reluctance – she called me the next day and convinced me to go.
So my worst fears were confirmed. This year they found something. They found a lot of DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma in Situ, or pre-cancerous cells in the ducts), with some invasive cancer. I made up my mind to get a double mastectomy and would have to wait for thrree weeks, post surgery, to get the full pathology report and see if it had spread to the lymph nodes and how much invasive cancer was in my breast.
I am happy to tell you that there was no cancer in the lymph nodes, and that there were only three small invasions in the left breast. Since I had opted for a full double mastectomy and was lucky enough to have my skin and nipples spared in the procedure, I was able to have reconstruction right away. I came out of surgery on April 22 with none of my breast tissue left, but two implants placed under my pectoral muscles. I am about the same size as I was before.
About three weeks after the initial surgical pathology, I was told by both the medical oncologist and the radiology oncologist that I would not need chemotherapy or radiation. The cancer had been removed by the surgery and there were good, clear, large margins. No other treatments were necessary. They had caught it very early, and I opted for the most aggressive treatment with a double mastectomy. Is this the end of my story? I don’t know, but I do know this: I am not the norm.
I have often thought of how triathlon training and racing has prepared me for so many life events. This is a perfect example how a positive, proactive mindset that allowed me to reach my goals in triathlon was also instrumental in getting me thru this diagnosis and surgery.
I am so grateful and feel so blessed for how my cancer journey has turned out so far. All the medical staff I have come into contact with have been wonderful. I am grateful for my wonderful husband and family who have prayed, supported and loved me so that I can be strong. I am grateful for my friends who have come for visits, walks and phone chats and who have affirmed my positive attitude and strong faith.
Through all of this, I have a strange feeling of survivor guilt. There are so many women who are battling breast cancer through drug treatments, multiple surgeries, chemo and radiation. Their struggles seem so much harder than mine. My heart goes out to them and I pray that they are well.
So, even though I have not suffered nearly as much as many women who have breast cancer, I would like to leave all women with this important message: Do not put off getting a mammogram. They are uncomfortable and can be scary, but they are necessary and can save your life. They saved mine. Many of you are mothers and grandmothers. Our children are watching us. Do the responsible thing – take care of yourself so you can be good role models for them. Do it because they love you and want you around for a long, long time. Face a fear, be brave. Acknowledge that you are vulnerable and come out the other side stronger. Even if that means having two fake boobs.
Margaret Dorio is a triathlete from Burlington, Ont. This story originally appeared in the September issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.