"I'm used to seeing it all the time with other people," Chris explains. "For 14 years, I typed medical histories and pathology reports as a transcriptionist, and I even worked for an oncologist at one time. So when I felt the lump in my breast, I knew instantly that it was cancer."
Chris's story began in November 2004, after she woke up in the middle of the night and was unable to get back to sleep. As her thoughts wandered, she realized it had been a month since her last self breast exam, and that's when she discovered the lump.
The next day, Chris scheduled a mammogram at Fauquier Hospital, but surprisingly, the film results showed nothing suspicious. Because Chris’s breasts were very dense, the radiologist performed an ultrasound to further examine the lump. Just as Chris feared, the scan indicated a two-centimeter solid lesion, and a follow-up biopsy confirmed that it was cancer.
Over the next few days, Chris talked to her surgeon and felt comfortable with her initial treatment plan, but she followed the advice of a helpful radiologist at Fauquier Hospital who urged her to seek a second opinion before deciding on a final course of treatment. During that exam, the second physician discovered a lump in her other breast (which had not shown up on her recent mammogram), and it, too, was cancerous.
“I felt like I hit a stone wall,” Chris says. “I watched my mother and grandmother die of breast cancer, so I have always been on top of my regular mammograms and self exams. I was adopted, so there is no biological link between us, but their experiences made me aware of the need for regular screening.”
Based on the discovery that she had cancer in both breasts, Chris decided to have a bi-lateral mastectomy (removal of both breasts) performed by her surgeon at Fauquier Hospital. Luckily, there was no lymph node involvement, meaning the cancer had not yet metastasized, but because of the large size and aggressive nature of her cancer, she still needed chemotherapy treatment.
Today, Chris is part of a large network of breast cancer survivors, and she often shares her experience with other women who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I speak to many patients who come to Fauquier Hospital for further diagnosis, such as those who need CT scans or surgery using nuclear medicine. I share my experience to help comfort them and to reassure them that there is hope. Breast cancer isn’t what it used to be; it’s not a death sentence anymore. We can beat this, but early detection is the key.”
Chris’ advice for other women is to get regular mammograms at the age recommended by their physicians, because mammography is still the most reliable tool for discovering breast cancer. She also recommends regular self breast exams, and for those who have dense breasts, she recommends digital mammography.
“I strongly believe my lumps would have shown up on a digital mammogram. Digital works better for dense breasts, because it’s more sensitive. I can’t wait until we can offer digital mammography at Fauquier Hospital, because I know we’re going to catch some cancers earlier than we could in the past with film mammography.”
Learn more about Fauquier Health's cancer services on our Cancer Center at Lake Manassas page.