WEDNESDAY, Oct. 6 (HealthDay News) -- Sara Fought started
getting mammograms at age 38, a couple of years earlier than
recommended by the American Cancer Society.
It was purely precautionary.
Her mother had fibrocystic breasts and had been diagnosed the
previous year, at age 80, with very early-stage breast cancer.
Fought had dense breasts, too, so her gynecologist suggested she
get a baseline mammogram, to provide a healthy comparison for
"To me, it was like going to the dentist," Fought, now 50 and living in Chevy Chase, Md., said of her first mammograms. "You don't want to do it. It's uncomfortable. But I've never found it as excruciating as some women find it. It's not fun, but it's quick."
And it was a good thing she started early.
When she went in for her annual screening at age 42, the
radiologist detected something in her mammogram. "The radiologist
called me while I was still there and said something looks
suspicious [and] we need to have further tests done," Fought said.
She had a sonogram during that same visit, and it showed what
appeared to be a lump in her breast.
"I was stunned," Fought recalled. "I couldn't believe it. This was on a Wednesday. We were supposed to be going out of town that weekend."
The day's surprises weren't over, though.
That evening, Fought decided to do a breast self-exam. She found
the lump that was detected on the mammogram. "Then I found a second
lump the mammogram hadn't caught," she said. The second lump
appeared to be in a different quadrant of her breast than the
first, and very, very deep.
Fought met with a cancer surgeon two days after her mammogram.
Within 30 seconds of beginning the examination, the doctor told
Fought there was, indeed, a second lump -- the one she'd found
They sent her for a needle biopsy that afternoon. The
radiologist who performed that test told her that he thought it
looked like cancer. That was the final confirmation that Fought
"I remember walking out," she said. "My husband was in the waiting room. And we just kind of fell apart."
The diagnosis was stage 2 breast cancer, mainly, she said,
because there were two tumors and they were in different quadrants.
Fought had a mastectomy, with reconstructive surgery a month
The surgery went well, but a sentinel node biopsy performed at
the time revealed microscopic evidence of possible metastasis. And
she said her surgeon also didn't feel comfortable with the amount
of margin between her chest wall and the cancerous tissue. For
those reasons, Fought said, she had chemotherapy and radiation
therapy after the surgery.
"To me, my treatment was my job," Fought recalled. "My job was fighting the cancer and undergoing treatment, which was pretty unpleasant." She said she had severe burns from the radiation and many of the usual chemotherapy side effects, including mouth sores, fatigue, acid stomach and hair loss.
But the treatment, she said, was worth it. She's still taking
cancer medication, but she remains cancer-free.
"It made me realize that life is fragile," Fought said, looking back on her struggle. "Who can say how one's life can turn on a dime? You have to appreciate the little things and not sweat the small stuff."
Fought now volunteers with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure
breast cancer foundation, telling her story in hopes that more
women will receive regular breast screenings.
"I look at myself as every reason why mammograms are very valuable for women 40 and older," she said. "For a few moments of discomfort or pain, you could be saving your own life."