1. What is your name, age, and background?
Carri Howard, 48 years old, married, mother of two, self-employed planning and zoning consultant.
2. When were you diagnosed and at what age?
My situation might be a little different than your other clients – I didn’t have full blown breast cancer – we caught it in time. At 44 years old, December of 2013 – I was diagnosed with Lobular Carcinoma In Situ, aka LCIS. Months later, another LCIS spot was detected in another area of the same breast.
3. What stage were you diagnosed with?
The only way to describe LCIS is like a Stage 0 cancer; it’s not full blown cancer. But to have another LCIS spot show up months later, as in my case, is apparently rare.
4. How was the cancer initially detected? (i.e. through a BSE, a CBE or an annual mammogram)
Late annual mammogram – I had always been faithful in my annual mammograms but it had been a hectic year and I realized was 9 months past due for my annual.
5. How did you feel when you first received the news?
In shock. When the head doctor calls you on Christmas Eve with your results and not a nurse, your stomach just drops to the floor because you know it’s not good news.
6. Is there a family history of breast cancer?
Yes, my grandmother and a great uncle each were diagnosed with breast cancer. We also had a family history of other cancers, such as melanoma, that are indicators or markers related to breast cancer.
7. Did you have a support network? If not, how did you overcome it or find it?
Great family support and I cannot say enough about the doctors and nurses at Mercy Women’s Center, they were amazing.
8. Tell me about your treatment process.
For LCIS, we did the typical lumpectomy in March of 2014, but by August, another spot was detected. At that point, facing another lumpectomy (which in my case left a significant scar), I decided to get tested for the BRCA gene. Turned out I didn’t carry it – thank goodness. However, I was not looking forward to the anxiety I would now live with for the rest of my life having had two spots show up in one year (which is rare for LCIS). After speaking to my surgeon (Dr. Boggs at Mercy is amazing), he agreed that if insurance would okay it, a prophylactic double mastectomy was a good option for me due to my relatively young age. Thankfully, insurance approved and in October 2014, appropriately Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I underwent a double mastectomy. My plastic surgeon, Dr. Derek Shadid (also amazing) took over from Dr. Boggs during the procedure and started phase 1 of what would turn out to be a 3-phase, 2-year reconstruction process. I could not be happier with the results, by the way. I opted for a double mastectomy for aesthetical / symmetrical purposes and surprisingly, insurance will often cover it.
9. Were there any programs or services offered to you that would help with the treatment process?
There were all kinds of literature and groups made available to me, but for me, just telling my friends what I was going through led me to women they knew who had undergone the same process. There were a lot of questions I didn’t even know to ask, or options I didn’t know about (such as to keep your nipples or not, who knew?!). It really helped to hear from other women who had undergone the same situation. I feel it’s very important to speak to another woman who has been through the entire process. That’s why I am always willing to speak about it. If anyone ever wants to ask me questions, I am always available. Don’t hesitate to ask!
10. Did you face any obstacles during your treatment process? If so, how did you overcome these obstacles?
The biggest obstacle was time and my impatience– I just wanted it over with. But it’s a healing process and if you opt for reconstruction, it does take time. But we have come so far, it was a fascinating journey. I was still haunted by those movies of the week from the 1970’s-1980’s where a mastectomy meant the end of the world. But the results that doctors can achieve today are amazing, I am very, very happy with the results! I actually ended up better than before if you can believe it.
11. What message would you like to provide women in the community?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make huge decisions when it comes to your life. If living for the next 40 years feeling like you have a loaded gun in your chest isn’t how you want to live, don’t be afraid to make a huge and often controversial decision such as a double mastectomy – it’s your life. No one should ever make you feel guilty if you decide to take your health and your future into your own hands.
12. How does health and fitness play a role in your life today?
I think it mentally and physically prepared me in ways I had no idea I would need when we started at Body Language in 2012. I think it was a God thing that led our family to BL in order to prepare me for the challenges to come. I know it helped me bounce back faster after each surgery and it also helped with my overall attitude and knowing that physically, I had never felt better or stronger. I think it was integral to the entire process. I’ve never felt better!