My name is Shravani Sarma, and I am a suburban mother from New Jersey with roots in distant Assam, India. I am 47 years old, and work as a Senior Business Analyst for a large firm. I have always been a fairly well-informed person and have taken an active interest in my family’s health and well-being. Having emigrated from India in the late 1990s and setting down roots in New Jersey, one of the first things I did was to make sure we all had primary health care professionals that took care of our well-being. But having grown up in India, the concept of regular yearly gynecological check-ups was still somewhat alien to me! I didn’t get into the habit of regular check-ups with my gynecologist until I was pregnant with my second child in 2002.
In early 2007, during one of my regular visits, my gynecologist noticed a lump in my left breast and recommended I get a mammogram. I had felt the lump before but I sort of pushed it out of my mind, because really, who at 36 years of age, wants to think about breast cancer, right? Because the mammogram was suspicious, I was referred to a surgeon for a biopsy. My surgeon performed a needle biopsy and it came out benign, and we all heaved a big sigh of relief! But because of that, I was on a 6 months follow up plan with the mammograms.
In 2009-10, with a lot of other stuff going on, I neglected to return for my 6 month follow-up, and it was over a year before I went back for my follow-up mammogram. At that time, the consulting radiologist advised me that because the size and shape of the lump had changed, it was best to take out the lump and send for biopsy. So off I was to the surgeon, and this time, had the lump removed. We waited with trepidation for about a week before the final diagnosis came back – I had Ductal carcinoma in situ. This was good news and bad news– the good news was that it was very early stage but it was still cancer. The days after that initial diagnosis are somewhat of a blur – but I took control of my own treatment. I researched various options for treatment (breastcancer.org was my primary resource) based on my biopsy report and also researched area cancer treatment facilities. My biopsy indicated a 20% ER positive, HER 2 negative and Grade 3 breast cancer. Although the Stage 0 diagnosis was a relief, but the Grade 3 worried me.
I decided to get a second opinion from another well-regarded breast surgeon, and based on his recommendation, I had a lumpectomy to get clear margins and a sentinel node biopsy. It was a great relief that the sentinel node biopsy came back negative, because that meant that I wouldn’t need chemotherapy. Surgery was followed by consultations with radiation and medical oncologists, and a treatment plan was designed for me. I then underwent 6.5 weeks of radiation, and was put on the hormone blocker Tamoxifen for 5 years.
During the year following my diagnosis, through myriad doctors’ appointments, mammograms, ultrasounds, poking and prodding, I eventually learnt to not have my first waking thought to be “Oh my god, I have breast cancer”! I continued 3 month follow ups initially, which tapered to 6 months and then eventually to yearly regular check-ups.
I consider myself extremely blessed to have the best doctors and facilities available to me. But primarily I am thankful for the early diagnosis and the part that my gynecologist’s vigilance played in my breast cancer journey. I can’t overstress the role of early detection and intervention for women. In the western world, most women are recommended to have yearly mammograms once they turn 40. It has been 7 years now since my diagnosis, and I stay vigilant about my health in general and my breast health in particular. I encourage all my friends and family to be vigilant and follow through with their physicals.
My diagnosis of breast cancer brought new perspective to life – I actively try to reduce stress, exercise and generally be in control of my own well-being. I have learnt to make time for myself, to slow down, and to not stress over small things. I value my family and friends that have stood by me in my time of need and cherish my relationships even more!