Sometimes, breast cancer can run in families.
Cousins Deborah Cowen Taylor and Nikki Cain Mitchell each have a cancer story to share. Deborah battled and defeated breast cancer. Nikki had some suspicious stuff going on and she took a pre-emptive strike so she wouldn’t have to face it at some point in the future.
The grandmother Beulah Cowan had passed in her 40s of breast cancer.
“I never knew her,” Deborah said.
Deborah had been for her yearly exam although nothing showed up. Then not too long afterwards, she found a pea-sized lump through self-examination.
The doctor ordered a needle biopsy.
“I really don’t remember the biopsy,” Deborah said. “I do remember that the results came back negative.”
That was a good negative, as in no cancer. But the doctor wasn’t so sure.
“He was suspicious,” Deborah said. “I asked him what happened. He thought the tumor was so hard that the needle didn’t get a true, accurate reading on it.”
He ordered a lumpectomy.
Deborah was diagnosed with breast cancer and ended up having a double mastectomy, followed by 4 chemo treatments and 28 radiation treatments.
“I got a lot of support from my friends and family,” Deborah said.
It took her about a year to go through the process.
Because of her family history of breast cancer, before her cancer ordeal, Deborah had genetic testing done.
“This one gene came back uncertain,” she said. “They said it was of clinical significance. Because of that and the family history, she and her doctor had discussed a preventative mastectomy.
“You know how they say hindsight is 20/20,” Deborah said. “Woulda, coulda, shoulda. If I knew then what I know now.”
When Nikki faced her own health crisis a year and a half ago, Deborah’s breast cancer diagnosis was fresh on her mind.
“I went for a mammogram and they found something,” Nikki said.
It ended up being a “radial scar,” she said. It was removed, sent to pathology and the doctors there found atypical hyperplasia.
“That basically means there are cancerous cells in your milk ducts,” Nikki said.
They might never develop into anything. But the doctors also shared with her that 80 percent of breast cancers start in that area.
Nikki had some hard decisions to make. And she took some time to reach her conclusion.
“I wanted to have peace of mind,” she said. “They gave me 3 options. The first was to lose weight and get healthy. They said it would reduce the risk.
The second option was to go on the medication Tamoxifen for the rest of her life. It would reduce her risk even more.
The third option was a double mastectomy.
“It would reduce the risk 99 percent and it was what I chose to do,” Nikki said.
She said you come home with drains and they are in for 2 weeks. There’s no lifting for 6 to 8 weeks.
“You can’t do much of anything really,” Nikki said. “You can’t lift your hands over your head.”
She had the surgery done at the end of July. She is now looking forward to getting her reconstruction done. She needed 3 months of healing before she could do that.
“When you are having reconstruction, they put expanders in that basically holds the place for the future reconstruction,” Nikki said. “It is not comfortable. It’s like having a cinder block on your chest.”
She said her decision was as much about her family as it was herself.
“I didn’t want my boys to worry,” she said.
She sought spiritual guidance in making her decision.
“I said, ‘Okay, Lord, I am going to walk through whatever door you have for me,” she said. Talking about it for this story was park of walking through that door.
“Seeing what Deborah went through influenced my decision,” Nikki said.