Living with a High Risk of Breast Cancer: Why I Never Miss a Screening

women's way north dakota

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. This month, you will see sports teams wearing pink or a local business donating to breast cancer research. 

But for some of us, Breast Cancer Awareness means more than just wearing pink shoes and ribbons. 

Breast cancer awareness is something that I am passionate about. Breast cancer has affected me and my family greatly. I’m in my late 20’s, and am currently living with a high risk of breast cancer. 

Breast Cancer in the Family

I can vividly remember waking up on a Sunday morning back in October 2000 to my mom crying. I was nine years old at the time and was clueless about what was going on. But my mom, at the age of 35, had found a lump in her breast. She went in the next day and the doctors told her not to worry. Because of her age, there was an 80% chance the lump was going to be benign (non-cancerous).

Unfortunately, and against the odds, the lump was cancerous. 

My mom started chemotherapy right before my 10th birthday. Following that, she had radiation, and then opted for a double mastectomy. What I can remember the most about that time is my mom losing her hair. And she had to be really careful not to get sick, because of her compromised immune system.

As my mom was fighting cancer, she was raising kids between the ages of 7-12, while working, making supper every night, and keeping up with all the household chores. Looking back now, I don’t know how she did it all. My mom is truly an inspiration to me.

As I got older, I discovered that my maternal grandma had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32.

Having both my grandma and my mom diagnosed with breast cancer in their early 30s is scary, especially now that my 30th birthday is rapidly approaching. I was told I may have a high risk for breast cancer, and need to get routine checks from a young age. 

Routine Check-Ups

At the age of 18 I started going to the breast clinic in Fargo every year to keep tabs on me due to my high-risk history. Each appointment includes a breast exam, and when I turned 25 I started to have a mammogram done as well. The mammograms started as a preventative measure at 25 because it is 10 years prior to when my mom received her breast cancer diagnosis.

After hearing of so many women avoiding mammograms or saying how awful they were, I was terrified. But the lady helping me was a true gem and calmed my nerves. I’m three mammograms in and I am here to tell you they are nothing to be afraid of. Yes, mammograms are slightly uncomfortable, but it’s nothing compared to childbirth

Prevention is Key

I am doing whatever I can to make sure I can be around for my children. Having dense breast tissue and a high-risk history of breast cancer causes me to be vigilant in my efforts toward prevention.

My mom has done the genetic testing and she tested negative for every gene sequence they could think of. This is hard to swallow because this leaves me with so many unanswered questions. Were my grandma and my mom two cases of just random early cases of breast cancer? Or do we have a gene mutation that is yet to be discovered? I have no idea what the answer is.

I have concerns that other women my age don’t need to think about.

Have I thought about having my breasts surgically removed? Absolutely, and that is something that is on my mind a lot more as I begin to enter my 30s. Do I often think about the fact I am at a high risk for breast cancer? All the time. 

Cancer Screening Options

You may think, “What good would a screening do?” Screenings can catch cancer in the earliest, most treatable stage. Most of the time, with breast cancer, it can catch it before a lump is even felt! 

Did you know there is a program right here for North Dakota residents that offers a way to pay for breast and cervical cancer screenings? It is called Women’s Way and they can help women get access to the quality care they need in a timely manner. 

women's way north dakota
Kristina Kluth, Women’s Way Representative

Kristina Kluth is the local Women’s Way representative. She’s based right here in Fargo and is ready to answer any questions you have about Women’s Way. There are nearly 5,230 eligible women in the Fargo Cass Public Health Service area. Find out if you’re one of them! Reach out to Kristina at [email protected] or 701-298-6918, or visit health.nd.gov/womens-way to learn more!

Breast cancer is awful (as are all kinds of cancer).

It can rip apart families, take loved ones very sick, and even make the children of the cancer patients question their own futures. Know that you are not alone. I am the granddaughter and daughter of breast cancer survivors.

I pray one day my children never have to say those words as I try my best to keep myself healthy. 

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Danielle grew up in a small, rural North Dakota town before attending university in Fargo. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences and has an associate's degree in Sign Language Interpreting. She and her husband, Andrew, have been married for six years and have three beautiful kids together. Danielle decided before she had her second child to be a stay-at-home mom. While life gets insane at times, she's happy to have other stay-at-home mom friends she can share the ups and downs of parenting with. She loves to find a good deal, bake, and spend time with her family.

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