Alexis talks about being diagnosed with breast cancer after her first mammogram at age 40, and the importance of the support she received from her family and friends, and the Northside staff throughout her journey.
What are the events that led to your cancer diagnosis?
I turned 40 and went in for my first mammogram. I opted for a 3D mammogram, which detected some areas of calcification that were considered indeterminate. After undergoing a needle core biopsy, I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
What treatment did you receive?
While it was a difficult decision to make, I chose to undergo a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Various factors went into my decision, including my young age at diagnosis, the nuclear grade and a known mutated gene (not specifically related to breast cancer). I also knew that for me, if I did not take this route, I would be in a constant state of fear and worry. Fortunately, I was a candidate for nipple-sparing pre-pectoral reconstruction, which is a less invasive procedure with a shorter recovery time.
Can you share your experience with genetic testing?
About 15 years ago, I found out that I had Lynch Syndrome, which is caused by a mutated gene. Since my diagnosis, I have completed all of the recommended tests. I never suspected breast cancer would be something with which I would be diagnosed. After my breast cancer diagnosis, I completed additional genetic testing for breast cancer-specific mutations, of which I was negative.
How and where did you receive support during your treatment and recovery?
After my diagnosis, my wife, Holly, attended every doctor’s appointment with me and was my primary caretaker post-surgery. I also had the support of my family and friends. After surgery, I completed physical therapy, which helped me regain my full range of motion and reduce scar tissue.
Did you utilize patient support resources at Northside Hospital Cancer Institute? If so, which would you recommend?
Soon after my diagnosis, Cindy Deminsky, a Northside Hospital oncology nurse navigator, contacted me. She helped answer my questions and sent me pertinent information. I was surprised when I received the initial call because I had no idea that this was a “thing.” I remember feeling comforted, supported and like I was not alone. I also received a prescription for post-surgical undergarments, which was a tremendous help during and after my recovery. Lena Markos from A Wellness Place was kind and helpful in assisting me with my fitting and selection.
What advice do you have for someone navigating their treatment and recovery journey?
It is completely normal to feel scared and overwhelmed. For me, knowledge is power, so educating myself on my diagnosis and treatment plan options helped a lot. Because this process can be so overwhelming, I would recommend bringing someone with you to your doctor’s appointments for both moral support and helping take notes as it may be difficult to capture and process everything in the moment. Also, do not be afraid to ask for help from family, friends, and/or through support groups. Finally, be your own advocate; only you can make the right decision for yourself.
Where are you in your treatment journey?
It has been seven months since my surgery. I have regular checkups with my surgeon. Due to my previous diagnosis and mutated gene, I now have an oncologist who also monitors me.
I am extremely thankful that I caught my breast cancer so early and believe that having the 3D mammogram helped detect my DCIS early. If you are due for a mammogram, please book your appointment today. Lastly, remember that you are not alone and that there are many people out there willing to provide support!
*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.