Popcorn and Breast Cancer: Interview With a Survivor
As we close Breast Cancer Awareness month, it is a good time to share the story of our own Christine K., a Materials Analyst in Pocatello. The story below was published by the local healthcare system in Pocatello and Christine encouraged us to share her story in order to help others, “It is of the utmost importance to me that we get women AND men to understand that early detection is KEY to survival.” Awareness is a yearlong process. Thank you, Christine, for sharing.
What popcorn has to do with breast cancer
My son had just called from Vancouver to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day, so I decided to enjoy the afternoon with a movie and a big bag of Angie’s Boomchickapop Popcorn.
As I was munching and browsing for a movie to watch, a single piece fell down my shirt into my sports bra. Paying more attention to the TV, I reached down into my bra for the popcorn and felt a strange lump. I stopped for a moment and to see the area for myself. I was really hoping I would see the popcorn there, but when I felt the area again, I could feel the lump.
Now I’m not someone who does a “complete” breast exam on myself every month or so. It’s usually a couple of times a year when I feel around a bit in the shower, mostly on the sides and underneath. Between those moments and getting my annual mammogram, I figured I was doing everything I needed to do to catch breast cancer.
I could not have been more wrong.
After finding the lump
The next day I scheduled my annual mammogram, which was two months overdue. When I went in, I did not tell the mammogram technician that I had found a lump. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure. Was it just fatty tissue? Something else?
Three days later, I received the results: “We found no findings… see you next year.” I should have been ecstatic, but my gut was saying no. I got on the phone and scheduled an appointment for the next week with my primary care doctor for a second opinion.
When I saw her, I told her that I had found a lump, but didn’t tell her where it was. I wanted her to find it. The left breast checked out fine and she moved to the right breast. She went over three quarters of the breast before she felt the lump. She went over the area a couple of times more and each pass found the lump.
After getting a biopsy, I waited four days to get the diagnosis – invasive ductal carcinoma.
I was in shock. Unless you have heard that result for yourself, you will never know the feeling that somehow your body has betrayed you. That feeling will never go away. The cancer may go away but knowing that your body once harbored this nastiness will not.
The day I got the news I cried for two days straight. I could hardly talk to anyone on the phone. I needed to sit with the news for a few days. Everyone who gets that news should give themselves time to mourn. Cry about it, embrace it, understand it, accept it, but then move on!
Getting that diagnosis is not a death sentence. When caught and treated early, invasive ductal carcinoma is highly curable if it has not spread from the breast.
Surgery and radiation treatments
The surgery to remove the lump and surrounding tissue in my right breast went well. They also took out three lymph nodes to check them for any cancer. Thankfully, they were all negative.
With the cancer now out of my right breast, the next step was radiation. Boy, I was not looking forward to that, but I knew I had to stay positive. What was I going to do? Sit in the corner and feel sorry for myself? That’s not me. Never will be.
The team at the Portneuf Cancer Center is the best – Dr. Callaghan, Michelle, Mark, Amy, all the fun nurses, Rob, Dr. Francisco, and the front office gals who always let me take a candy in and a candy out! Dr. Fritz and all the nurses and the front office staff at Portneuf Medical Center – they crack me up! I saw these folks every weekday for 20 days and they were so professional but still down to earth, which I appreciated.
The radiation zapped me, drained me of energy and made my skin extremely red and irritated, but I did it.
The final step was surgery on the left side to even out my breasts. Let me tell you, I never realized how awkward it is to have one large breast with one teeny tiny one. Having to stuff the small side bra to match the left reminds me of junior high all over again!
A message to women over 40
It sounds like a big cliché, but popcorn saved my life. If I had not been eating popcorn that day, I may not be telling you this story. I would be blissfully unaware there was cancer growing inside of me until it was too late.
I certainly have a greater appreciation for breast self-exams.
To all the women reading this, please do your own breast exams regularly. It’s not weird. It’s not time-consuming. Most importantly, check your nipple area, as that is near where my lump was. I never checked there before. I went all around the outer areas, but not that area. Don’t make the same mistake that I did.
One friend of mine gave herself a breast exam and found a lump. Success! This is one more instance in which anyone at any time can find a random lump. I hope every woman will listen and do self-exams. For now, it will just have to be one friend at a time!
I wake up every day feeling blessed that I have awesome friends and family (To my best friend Angie, I don’t know where I would be without you by my side).
I also believe that keeping a positive attitude will bring positive things my way. That’s the only way I will live moving forward.