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Taking on Breast Cancer

Self-Examination Key To a Young Mother's Victory Over Breast Cancer

Megan Smith’s life did not follow a typical course for a 27-year-old. While she counts many blessings, she has also overcome an obstacle that many women are not forced to bear until an older age—breast cancer.

She was diagnosed at age 26, just over a year ago, and the most capturing part of her story is that she found it herself. “I convinced myself it was nothing since I was so young and I just thought it was a little lymph node that was bothering me until I woke up one day with my shoulder hurting and thought someone should check it out,” says Smith.

Doctors are part of Smith’s daily life since she’s a nurse who works in day surgery at Doctors Hospital and also at the Augusta Endoscopy Center. She asked a female surgeon who works with her to take a look and a mammogram was ordered. The following day the doctor fit her in for a stereotactic biopsy and called with the results. “He was floored that it was positive, but we dealt with it,” says Smith. Smith elected to have a double mastectomy even though it was just on the right side and chose to do a genetic test since no one else in her family had breast cancer. The genetics tested negative. Smith also went through six months of chemotherapy, 33 rounds of radiation and is now on Tamoxifen for five years.

Self-Awareness Is Key

She credits a strong support system for her ability to meet the challenge. “I have a lot of family and community support and I am blessed to have all of that because I have twins who just turned 5 and are starting kindergarten,” says Smith. While she has remained strong and positive, her concern for other women who may face a similar ordeal prompted her  to share her experience. “I tell people to be aware of your body and get to know your body because if I did not know what was going on, I would not have caught the breast cancer when I did,” she says.

Smith advises women to take precautions and know their risks. “I do not smoke or have breast cancer in my family so I was atypical, but I paid attention to a small voice and took that step to have it checked out,” she says. The clinical breast exam and monthly self breast exam are great tools. “If you have a question about anything abnormal, do not be afraid to ask your doctor,” she says.

Smith reiterates that she found the lump herself, despite having a normal exam just a few months earlier. “I failed to ask my doctor about it because she examined me and did not find anything, so I thought I was being a hypochondriac by thinking something was wrong with me,” she says. Four months after the exam she felt the abnormality, which grew, and knew something was wrong.

Knowledge and Positive Attitude Helped Her Recovery

Smith looks at life in a new light. “I learned not to take anything for granted and to make sure I hug my babies tight and kiss them as much as I can,” she says. She encourages women who are diagnosed with breast cancer to gather all of the information they can. “Make sure you know all of the treatment options that are available, know what you are up against and do not get discouraged.” Staying informed and talking to your doctors are your biggest assets.

Smith feels more people are being diagnosed with breast cancer everyday but does not let that bring her hopes down. “There are a lot more people living than dying as well, so that in itself is encouraging,” she says. She emphasizes the importance of making healthy choices like eating well, but notes that breast cancer does not discriminate—and neither did her kids. “My kids did well and, though I was sick and tired, my kids were so resilient, understanding, loving and wanted to take care of Mommy,” she says.

What To Tell Your Children

Breast cancer was a conversation at home. “We were open with our kids about it and they know what the pink ribbons mean and get excited when they see someone with one,” she says. Kids understand more than we give them credit for at times. “I did not want them to get confused so I stayed open.” Smith returned to work in April and feels good now. She feels this is her time to empower other women. “Staying on top of your health and knowing your body are the main things,” she says.

Smith looks at the future with great hope. “God is taking care of me and I have been very blessed,” says Smith. Her sick days are likely behind her. “If you have good family support, know your body and have early detection, you can get through it.”    

Jamie Lober, author of Pink Power (http://www.getpinkpower.com), is dedicated to providing information on women’s and pediatric health topics.  She can be reached at jamie@getpinkpower.com.

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