One in every eight American women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. All of us will know someone who is affected by the disease. The team at Hyo Silver is no exception. That’s why we’re committed to the fight for a cure as well as lending our support to this important cause. As a visible sign of our support we created the Tough Enough Ribbon pendant and necklace in partnership with the National Breast Cancer Foundation as a symbol of strength for women facing and fighting breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Survivor
Bravely and boldly, Sheli answered a few questions for us. We are proud to share this interview with a breast cancer survivor in our Hyo Silver community:
How did your breast cancer journey begin?
I was diagnosed at age 46 with Focal Atypical Lobular Hyperplasia in May 2017. I wasn’t classified as a stage because my cells were caught before they became cancerous. I had been having pain in my left breast behind my areola every night when I would go to bed. It was an ache. I felt the area, and my husband felt the area…we couldn’t feel any lump or bump. After a couple of weeks of this I asked my primary physician for a mammogram.
What was your initial diagnosis like?
When I went in I was surprised they only did a monogram and not a sonogram like they normally did. I had a breast reduction and lift surgery in 2001, so having scar tissue would normally require more imaging. The following week my primary doctor’s office called requesting more images and a sonogram. I assumed it was due to scar tissue and wasn’t worried at all. When I went to the imaging center I was shocked that they only wanted more images of the right side when it was the left side that had the ache. They took images in positions I had never been in before. Then the sonogram was also only on the right side. I asked the technician why they weren’t focusing on the left and was told the left was completely clear, but the right had five areas of concern that the radiologist wanted to examine closer. I left a bit worried after that appointment. I was then called by the imaging center to set up a biopsy appointment of the suspicious areas on the right side. Now I’m completely worried.
What happened next?
I had the biopsy, which was unnerving to say the least. A week later I had my follow-up appointment with my primary doctor. A PA student came into the room first to begin a full exam. I interrupted her stating I was only there for my imaging results. She looked at my chart and stated everything was benign and I had nothing to worry about. When she walked out, I texted my husband and told him the good news. Then my primary doctor walked in and opened my chart stating he was referring me to an oncologist. I was confused. I explained that the student said “everything was benign.” But then he explained Focal Atypical Lobular Hyperplasia to me. It’s a benign cell that becomes a very angry and aggressive breast cancer. After that I left in tears calling my husband, who was out of town, and trying to explain everything that was happening.
How did you cope with this news?
I believe my initial response was shock, which became a strong desire to rid any and all possible bad tissue from my body. I was so afraid of it growing inside me to the point of taking over my life before I had a chance to have the surgery. I needed to get our third son into college and the fourth into high school before I could focus on surgery and recovery.
Is there a history of breast cancer in your family?
My aunt on my mother’s side had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and a single mastectomy. Since she was over 40 years old when diagnosed it wasn’t considered hereditary.
Hyo Silver designed the Tough Enough Pendant to honor those who have been impacted by breast cancer.
How did you treat your breast cancer?
I eventually saw the oncologist and we decided on a plan that would work for all of us. Lobular affects both breasts so I knew we needed to treat both as if they were equally evil. I didn’t want to focus on the right and then have the left kill me. The double mastectomy was September 6, 2017.
Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process?
During the mastectomy muscle expanders were placed in order to make room for implants under the muscle. Implants used for reconstruction are a lot larger than those used for an augmentation due to the fact that there is no natural tissue. The surgeon must get us from concave to breasts that look natural and that takes a lot. Somehow, I ended up with an infection around one expander, so it had to be removed and replaced a few months later. The expanders are filled every couple weeks with saline to slowly stretch the muscle. It’s a painful process. I had to go through it twice with that side. Once the expanders were exchanged to implants I quickly realized that I had chosen the wrong plastic surgeon. After giving him another chance at revision I understood that he lacked the knowledge to put me back together properly. I found a wonderful surgeon in Dallas who specializes in correcting botched reconstruction surgeries. It took a few surgeries to correct the first surgeon’s mistakes but he did a wonderful job. During this process I was also closely following up with my oncologist and general practitioner.
Did you have a support system? How did you overcome these obstacles?
I had, and have, wonderful friends and family who supported me during the entire ordeal and all seven surgeries. There is nothing like waking up in the hospital surrounded by family. I will say I definitely found out which of my friends were keepers during everything. Also, I realized not everyone knows how to reciprocate the kindness I showed them when they had health issues.
What message would you like to provide women in the community?
What I want every woman (and even every man since they also get breast cancer) to understand is to trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right with your body, follow up. The process will not be easy. There will be times you can’t look at yourself in the mirror. There will be times you cry alone in your car or shower. There will be days with a lot of support and days with none. You are strong and capable of doing whatever it takes to save your life. Our breasts should not be allowed to kill us. They are removable and can be replaced. Find cancer before it even has a chance and show it that you are in control of your life.
Note: According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected early, and is in the localized stage, the five-year survival rate is 99%. Early detection is key. This includes monthly breast self-exams and scheduling regular clinical breast exams and mammograms.