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A breast self-exam saved Carrie's life. Read her story.

October 19, 2012

“I was at church talking to a friend whose son had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer,” Carrie, a 40-year-old mother of three, explains. "He had noticed a lump during a self-exam and contacted his doctor. I didn’t have a history of cancer in my family and I was healthy, so I always thought I had nothing to worry about.”

Upon returning home that day and doing a self-exam, she noticed that one of her breasts had a small lump. Not knowing whether it was normal, she made an appointment with her OB/GYN, who initially thought it was probably a clogged duct but sent her to Orlando Health for a mammogram to be sure.

Carrie had her first mammogram five years prior, at the age of 35. The results from her second test didn’t scream “cancer” but looked much different than her first, so she was sent to have an MRI. Her results were unexpected and scary. “My doctor told me the mass was growing, and I would need a biopsy," Carrie recalled.

After the biopsy was completed, there was more bad news. The week between Christmas and the New Year, Carrie received the call: her biopsy results showed that she had ductal carcinoma (DCIS). Cancer. Carrie says her immediate reaction was surprise, then shock, then practical, her next words were “Ok, what do we need to do next?“

She dedicated her free time to learning everything she could and understanding as much as possible about her diagnosis since it was all completely new to her. She tried to stay off the Internet, knowing the vast amount of inaccurate information could be detrimental to her outlook. “I wanted to talk to people that had the same diagnosis, I wanted to hear their stories; I talked to my friends, their friends, I read blogs written by women that had gone through this. Both my husband and I took the diagnosis on as a problem to which we had to find the solution, we made a great team, we just kept trudging through the whole time.”

Carrie underwent a nipple-sparing mastectomy on Tuesday, January 17, 2012. On Friday, she received a call with news that another surgery was needed immediately, that there were cancerous cells in her nipple and it would have to be removed. One week later she was back in for surgery. “One of the most difficult thing for me to understand was that there was something really bad happening inside my body and I had no idea because there were no symptoms.”

Carries oncologist was Dr. Rebecca Moroose a medical oncologist at UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health. “I immediately felt close to Dr. Moroose and I felt she understood and genuinely cared for me, she told me the process at UF Health Cancer Center at Orlando Health, and I felt such relief knowing I had a whole team of experts reviewing my case. I felt completely cared for and I felt I could finally relax a little.”

And finally, good news came: Carrie wouldn’t need radiation or chemotherapy. She couldrelax. A little. She underwent one final (reconstruction) surgery on June 22, 2012 and is happy to report she’s cancer free. She meets with Dr. Moroose every six months to go over new MRI and mammogram results. She is thankful to have talked with her friend that day that compelled her to do a breast self-exam; that conversation quite possibly saved her life. Carrie hopes to share her story to raise awareness and inspire women not only to fight, but also to take action in their own preventive care.

“I was lucky. I am still here with my family, but so many women aren’t that lucky, and many of them aren’t because they didn’t catch it early. Every woman needs to do self-exams regularly!”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer American women face today, affecting one in eight. The key to fighting this deadly disease is early detection; it is imperative for women toperform self-examinations frequently to check for irregularities because there are no physical signs in the early stages, other than feeling a lump in the area. About 5-10 percent of cancer is hereditary and the rest is sporadic. Carrie’s case is thought to be sporadic, but if a genetic disorder is to blame, her daughter may have a 5-10 percent higher risk of the same cancer. If you have a family history of cancer, talk to your doctor about referring you to a genetic counselor. They are trained to identify familial syndromes and test for genetic disorders that, if inherited, can put you at risk of cancer.

Read Dr. Nathalie McKenzie's blog on familial genetic disorders and how they can relate to cancer.

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