A Positive Outlook: Why Breast Cancer Screening and Early Detection Matters
Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women, affecting over two million women worldwide each year.
For most of us, this staggering statistic hits close to home as we consider our families, friends, colleagues, even ourselves. Almost none of us can say, “I don’t know anybody who’s had breast cancer.”
Thanks to the constant evolution of modern medicine and unbelievable perseverance and bravery in the face of the unthinkable, many of the women we know who have been diagnosed are now breast cancer survivors – our grandmothers, mothers, wives, sisters, friends – who fought the battle and won – active, healthy, thriving women, living fulfilling lives decades beyond the diagnosis. This is the hope for breast cancer patients: the return to health and plans for a bright future.
When our Main Line Parent Content Director Pamela Badolato was diagnosed in 2015, she had already lived in the shadow of breast cancer all of her life. With a family history that included her great-grandmother, an aunt, her own mother (diagnosed twice,) along with numerous friends in their circle, Pamela had been easily convinced by her doctor in 2010 to undergo complete genetic testing that might show a proclivity towards developing cancer was the right move.
When the test returned that she was in face BRCA positive, Pamela knew exactly what, eventually, she would do: confront the radical surgery that would remove all of her breast tissue and drastically reduce her chances of developing the disease that otherwise was nearly a certainty. In 2015, with a double mastectomy scheduled, Pamela’s preoperative MRI showed the presence of what looked like cancer in one breast. When the postoperative pathology results came back, with the mastectomy already completed, breast cancer was confirmed.
One of the lucky ones, Pamela’s double mastectomy surgery was a total success, with clean margins, no advancement of the disease, and no further treatment necessary. Just 31 at the time of her surgery, the post-op cancer diagnosis helped Pamela to look back on her decision with a sense of peace.
“I never had to question whether I’d done the right thing,” she says.
Today, this dynamic mother of four growing children is healthy, full of life, and indispensable to her friends and family. Through close medical monitoring, frequent health screenings, and continued work together with her doctors to address the ramifications of her genetic testing, Pamela’s intention is to keep playing an active role in her own wellness, with the centered, positive attitude that comes in great part from her lifelong experience with breast cancer.
“I learned from a young age with my mom as a role model,” she says of her two-time-survivor mom. “She really celebrates every birthday. Her outlook has affected all of us, to appreciate the here and now.”
Helping other women and families facing the same diagnosis, through sharing her own experience, is a significant part of Pamela’s life. She encourages anybody affected by breast cancer to talk openly, to ask questions, and to take advantage of every resource, especially by participating in support groups, whether in person or online.
The most important advice Pamela has to offer urges us, as women, to take possession and control of our own wellness, of our own bodies. “Know your body,” says Pamela. “Know your family history on both sides. If you’re diagnosed, get doctor recommendations, talk to as many people as you can. There are so many different courses of treatment out there. The more people you talk to, the more information you have.”
Because of the considerable influence of family history on the potential development of breast cancer, genetic testing can make the difference between a good prognosis and a difficult one. Even for those who test negative, says Pamela, if there’s a history of breast cancer in your family, retesting every few years is worthwhile as new genetic identifiers are discovered.
Along with family history and genetic testing, early detection through yearly screening is the key to diagnosing breast cancer at its most treatable. Regular mammograms, clinical breast exams, ultrasounds or MRIs if indicated, and self-exams all aid in the goal of early detection. Talk to your doctor about assessing and lowering your risk factors, and which screening methods are right for you.
Photography by Abbe Foreman Photography.
This story was originally published in September 2019.