Australia markets open in 21 minutes
  • ALL ORDS

    7,754.30
    +27.50 (+0.36%)
     
  • AUD/USD

    0.7492
    +0.0024 (+0.32%)
     
  • ASX 200

    7,441.00
    +25.50 (+0.34%)
     
  • OIL

    83.66
    -0.10 (-0.12%)
     
  • GOLD

    1,809.30
    +2.50 (+0.14%)
     
  • BTC-AUD

    83,933.70
    +2,095.95 (+2.56%)
     
  • CMC Crypto 200

    1,502.82
    +1,260.14 (+519.26%)
     

I have breast cancer: If I trusted a mammogram, I'd be slowly dying

·5-min read
Nicole's GP and private health saved her life. Source: supplied
Nicole's GP and private health saved her life. Source: supplied
  • Later this week, Nicole will share why you can not afford to drop private health and how much breast cancer medical bills would have cost her without it. Don't miss it: sign up here to get it straight to your inbox.

On January 21 this year, exactly two weeks after finding a lump, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Spurred on by my friend’s discovery of a malignant tumour just a few months earlier, I’d started checking and had felt your classic ‘frozen pea’.

I hotfooted it to my doctor’s surgery, which squeezed me in within three hours. You say: “Lump in boob” and they say: “Jump the queue”.

But the thing is my tumour was super mobile – you could push it around! – and right close to the surface of my breast. When I put my arm above my head, you could even see it.

That’s all classic ‘cyst’.

Sinister breast tumours are usually anchored, harder than mine and buried pretty deep.

Accordingly, my spectacular GP said: “It’s probably nothing to worry about. However, let’s send you for the triple-check anyway.”

She probably saved my life. She, and my private health insurance.

Without that check I shudder to think what would have happened. But even ONE check would have gone terribly wrong for me.

You see, when I went for the mammogram – the first-step check – I was given the cancer ‘all-clear’.

This missed diagnosis happens so often it has a name: mammographically “occult” malignancies.

If we’d trusted that mammogram, right now I would be slowly dying.

And frighteningly, I already had a ‘vigilance’ mammogram booked for the following week. Like I said, I had been spooked into action by my friend’s experience.

If I’d gone into that scheduled mammogram without having previously found something to investigate, I would have walked out buoyant, thinking it was ‘business-as-usual’, and the cancer would have slowly, silently consumed me over the – perhaps – two years until my next one.

So why is this oh-so-critical situation oh-so-common?

Mammograms typically don’t find tumours smaller than 3mm or even 5mm. Bigger doesn’t guarantee accuracy, though: mine was 8mm.

Nicole's GP and private health saved her life. Source: supplied
Nicole's GP and private health saved her life. Source: supplied

They are notoriously bad at detecting what are called lobular (as opposed to ductal – so milk duct) tumours, which make up 10-15 per cent of all breast cancers. That wasn’t my issue either: mine is an even rarer kind called a mucinous carcinoma which apparently they’re also not great at spotting!

The problem for me – and for many – is that I have dense, apparently ‘non-see-through’ breasts – it’s very common in women with a lower body mass index and in younger women.

For this reason, not until age 50, and often after menopause, do mammograms become more effective.

But how’s this: Breast Cancer Network Australia says women with dense breasts have up to six times the risk of developing breast cancer than women with – well – fatty boobs.

So thank heavens that after the malfunctioning mammogram, I was sent to the stage-two check: an ultra-sound, which was at least ‘inconclusive’.

It was only then, in the third-stage check – an ‘aspiration’ through a needle, where they withdraw a bit of the offending bump – that the doctors essentially came back running.

“Have you ever had a core biopsy?” one said.

“Ah, no,” I replied.

“Well, you are about to have one.”

Thirty-six hours later I had the confronting result.

I chose to avoid radiation and the need to take hormone blockers for perhaps 10 years (mine is a type of cancer that, mercifully, doesn’t require chemotherapy) and also to prevent this or another type of cancer from ever returning in my breasts.

Last month I had a double mastectomy and simultaneous reconstruction.

But the only reason that was an option was my private health cover. I had reputedly the best surgeon in the country, spent six days in a great hospital (just for the cost of a $500 excess) and – start to breast-cancer finish – was clear within six weeks.

Now, my focus is on healing. And getting back to running as soon as possible – I’m used to clocking up 20kms-plus a week. Yes, I am fit, healthy and didn’t see cancer coming (at 46kgs, I was also told I’d need to put on about 8kgs to have the preferred ‘tissue’ reconstruction – redistributing fat is a real thing – so silicone it is).

I’m delighted to say that doing all this – who knew I’d end up having so much in common with Angelina Jolie?! – has made my prognosis excellent.

And, in an incidental positive, the journalist in me likes that I now know about 16 more words for mammaries.

Ta-tas, fun bags, breasticles, baps, norgs, bazoongas and puppies. OK I knew those last three.

Then there are the implant-specific ones: bolt-ons, re-treads and my all-time favourite, girls.

Plus, in about a one-week stretch, I saw and felt more of my girlfriends’ breasts than I ever imagined I would.

Everyone with enhancements was super keen to help.

I find myself, quite often, returning the favour now!

So whether you check your own breasts, or get someone else to do it for you, just do it.

And never trust a mammogram.

Nicole Pedersen-McKinnon is a Yahoo Finance columnist and long-time ‘money’ commentator around the country… and now campaigner for breast checks. Follow Nicole’s progress on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

  • Later this week, Nicole will share why you can not afford to drop private health and how much breast cancer medical bills would have cost her without it. Don't miss it: sign up here to get it straight to your inbox.

Follow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter, and subscribe to the free Fully Briefed daily newsletter.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting