Many of you know Kelli Currie, a long-time member of CFIB, Seattle University Law professor, and faithful 9:15 am class attendee. Some of you may also know that Kelli was diagnosed with breast cancer last September. She took time off from the gym to kick cancer’s butt, completed her treatment, and came back to CFIB earlier this year. We asked Kelli to share with us her story, and she graciously obliged.
When you go in for your first mammogram, they warn you that without any imaging to compare against, it's not uncommon for them to call you back for additional imaging. I'd made the initial appointment because it was "recommended" at 40, and although other cancers are present in my family, there's no history of breast cancer. I didn't think much of it when they called me back for additional imaging, and I didn't overreact when the recommended a biopsy. But I remember exactly where I was the following afternoon when the radiologist called me with my diagnosis. I was 40 years old, and I had breast cancer. The good news, she said, is that I caught it super early: DCIS, Stage 0. The bad news is that I still had cancer and pathology indicated that it was aggressive.
What they don't tell you in the cancer brochure is that it's a full-time job: the following week I spent no less than 10 hours on the phone talking to surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, scheduling nurses, social workers, and family, friends, and co-workers. I had to make decisions about surgery: what kind, how aggressive, and how much risk was I willing to assume? Radiation followed, every weekday at 1:00 PM for four weeks. By the end, my skin was charred, cracked, and literally falling off. I was tired and emotional all the time. Finally, several months in, the gravity of cancer was wearing on me every day.
Truly, I was one of the lucky ones. I dodged chemo and though I'll be on hormone therapy for the better part of the next ten years, my diagnosis was a "good one" to have. I have to keep myself from wondering where I'd be if I hadn't made that appointment for a mammogram at 40; what might my treatment have looked like if I'd put it off to 42 or 45? Though I never really had any aversion or anxiety to getting my first mammogram, I also didn't entirely see the value at the time. I figured that it was like any other regular exam: you check the box and go on with your life until you have to come back next year.
I was so wrong, and I've learned so much:
Self breast exams are important, but they are not enough. My cluster of cells was not yet a full tumor and I would not have felt it during a self exam. Even if it had formed into a harder tumor, it was buried 8 millimeters deep into the tissue, and although that sounds like a small distance, when the tumor could be as small as one or two millimeters, I likely wouldn't have felt it. As it was, my cluster of cells was 6 millimeters in diameter and because it wasn't a hardened tumor (yet), I couldn't feel it at all.
Mammograms are important, but they may also not be enough. There are many patients who are diagnosed at Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, who never had a tumor begin in the breast enough that a mammogram would have picked it up. These patients will often express metastases (tumors or other large clusters) in other parts of their body, despite the fact that a few small cells may have actually started in and spread from their breasts.
Talk with your doctor about an MRI if you have dense tissue. If your mammogram reports that you have extremely dense breast tissue (often referred to as heterogeneously dense breast tissue), you should discuss with your doctor (or get a second opinion) about whether an MRI is a good idea. An MRI is incredibly more sensitive, so it's important to know that they may flag things for a biopsy that a mammogram would not, but in some cases it's better to be overly cautious than miss something important.
Insurance companies are pushing to move the first "recommended" mammograms out to the age of 50. There is a push from insurance and some in the medical community to move the first recommended mammograms out to the age of 50 and only approve earlier scans for people who have a family history of breast cancer and/or have one of the BRCA mutations. I have no doubt that if I'd waited until 50, I'd be dead. I have no family history of breast cancer and do not have either of the BRCA mutations. This also assumes that families are in a position to pay to get tested for the genetic mutations without any previous medical reason, which means that insurance is unlikely to cover it, if they have insurance at all. The "reasonable" genetic tests will run at least $1000 before insurance. Advocate for yourselves and your families for a screening mammogram no later than 40.
Mammograms are uncomfortable, I know. I've had 5 separate mammograms and 2 MRIs in the last year when you count everything from my very first, through the biopsy, surgery, and followup. But the mammograms were far more comfortable than recovering from surgery or my last two weeks of radiation, and they -- very literally -- saved my life. My kids are 14 and 11 and the last year has been challenging for us all, but I'm so glad to be on the other side of things, celebrating life with them every single day, because I made the decision to schedule a mammogram early.
There's nothing that will smack you in the face and make you re-prioritize your life like a cancer diagnosis, and though it's been a difficult year, I could not be more thankful for the CFIB community (especially you 9:15ers) for welcoming me back every time I tried to pull myself together enough to show up. I have cried through more WODs this year than in the last four years of workouts combined: hearing you all cheer for me, inviting me to coffee, letting me cry for no reason...it has meant more than I could ever say.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, CrossFit Interbay will be fundraising for Barbells For Boobs! This organization educates on the benefits of fitness during breast cancer treatment, and provides access to gym memberships and specially trained coaches to those directly impacted by it. Join the team and create a page, or donate to the team page.
“Boobs, Sweat, and Tears”
40 Box Jumps (24”/20”)
Power Cleans (115/80)
Wallballs (20/14, 10’/9’)
40 Box Jumps (24”/20”)
*25 Minute Cap*
We’ll also be running a special workout in honor of Kelli on Monday, October 21st during all classes. She collaborated on its’ creation and is excited to hear how everyone likes it! Make sure your legs thank her the next day 😉