I was 53 when I found a lump while doing a self-breast exam in the area of my underwire bra. My husband Tim asked me to go see a doctor to check it out. The doctor checked me and asked where I was having the problem. He couldn’t find it. I guided his hand to the lump. He tried to aspirate fluid from it but found nothing. The doctor asked if the office surgeon could check it. The surgeon assured me it was nothing.

But the surgeon also said, “We don’t leave lumps in women.”

A new mammogram located the lump. After a pre-surgery physical for a lumpectomy, a lead wire was put in to help find the lump during surgery.

But then, what was supposed to be a simple lumpectomy turned into a nightmare! The doctor came out from surgery and told my husband and family, with tears in his eyes, that it was cancer and had already spread. The doctor did a mastectomy, as we discussed. Eighteen lymph nodes were removed with my breast; three tested positive for cancer.

When I healed, I was sent to an oncologist where I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma stage IIB cancer. Two rounds of intense chemotherapy were ordered.

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My hair started falling out with the first round. And it hurt! I lost all my body hair.

My fingers and feet felt numb from the second round. The dosage was cut down to prevent the numbness from becoming permanent.

Completing chemo, I took Tamoxifen, and then Arimidex. When I suffered many side effects, the doctor put me back on Tamoxifen to finish my five years.

I may have been the one who found my lump, but these six words saved my life: “We don’t leave lumps in women.”

I have met some awesome women on my journey with breast cancer, some sharing similar stories. I have been on a dragon boat team of breast cancer survivors since 2002. We hope to resume in 2021 after the coronavirus canceled this year.

I have been active in breast-cancer awareness and have learned important things. I’d like to share a few of those things now, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month:

  • Take someone with you for your consultation with the doctor; more ears are better, the other person can also take notes, and you are in a state of shock at the time.

  • Trusting and loving your doctor is very important in your healing process.

  • Laugh a lot. Tears are all right, too.

  • Accept help. That was a hard one for me.

  • What’s happening to you is happening to your whole family. Everyone is scared and concerned.

  • Never leave a lump unchecked, and just don’t watch it for a few months. Find out what it is.

I run my cancer’s life; it doesn’t run mine. I am here today to tell you that self-breast exams and office exams can and do save lives. Aug. 11, 2020, was my 20th year cancer-free.

Nancy Lowney of Duluth is a breast cancer survivor. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.