Breast Cancer Awareness: My Story- Summer Singleton
If I were to tell you about myself, I’d mention that I used to be a teacher that married a pilot, became a mom to two beautiful and sassy girls, and most recently, a cancer survivor.
I have been proactive and getting my yearly mammograms since I turned 30 due to a history of breast cancer in my family. My mom and maternal aunt are both survivors. It was May 22, 2017, just two months before my 40th birthday, I remember going in to see my doctor for results from a biopsy on my right breast. I knew it wasn’t good when I received the phone call to schedule an appointment for my results. That day, I was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma.
Finding out I had breast cancer was somewhat of a shock considering a week before my diagnosis, I had received negative results on my BRAC Analysis, a genetic test that detects the presence of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation in which are responsible for a majority of hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. However, I was high risk, so I wasn’t too surprised by the awful news.
My doctor referred me to a surgical oncologist at MD Anderson in the Woodlands. The moment I met my surgical team, I knew I was in good hands! The following Tuesday, my surgical oncologist met with other oncologists of MD Anderson to review my mammograms from the last nine years specifically the most recent ones. That is when they discovered something similar on my left breast. Needless to say, I went in for another ultrasound and MRI followed by a biopsy a few weeks later. My results came backstage 1 noninvasive carcinoma. It was pretty much a mirror image of the cancer in my right breast.
So, that led me to my decision to have a bilateral mastectomy followed by reconstruction surgery. On July 17th, I had six hours of surgery to remove my breasts. During this time, my lymph nodes on both sides tested negative for cancer, which thankfully meant I wasn’t going to need radiation. A few days later, I was released to go home. At this time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to need chemotherapy for future prevention. My oncologist ran a test called Oncotype DX. This test looks at 21 different genes within the cells of a tumor sample. Certain patterns suggest a more aggressive cancer that is more likely to come back after treatment. The test results show a score between 0-100. Then, the scores are used to determine whether the tumor falls in the low (no chemo), intermediate (my decision), high (chemo) stage for recurrence. Luckily, my scores fell in the low stage for recurrence, so there was no necessary reason to have chemotherapy. For five years, I will be taking Tamoxifen, which is a drug used to treat and prevent breast cancer as well as lower my estrogen levels. Despite the common side effects such as hot flashes, mood swings, irregular periods, etc., I feel the medication is doing its job.
It’s been a little over two years. I see my oncologist for regular checkups every six months. But, nothing will help with the worry myself and other survivors face on a daily basis. I thank God every day for blessing me with an amazing medical team and support system. I couldn’t have gotten through it without the love and support of my family and friends.
Breast Cancer Awareness: What You Can Do
First off, be proactive! Go get your yearly mammograms. Unfortunately, most women have to wait until the age of 40 to receive their first mammogram unless there’s a history of cancer in their immediate family, such as in my case. I know this is due to insurance policies and is a sad reality considering more women are being diagnosed stage 3 and 4 and/or the cancer has spread by the time they’re 40. I’m not sure what we can do to prevent cancer from occurring in the first place, but I do know that donating to non-profit organizations that help raise awareness is a start. Their main goals are to prevent and eliminate cancer through research, initiating patient care, providing mammograms to those that don’t have insurance, etc. A few non-profit organizations that I trust and have donated to are MD Anderson Boot Walk to End Cancer and The Rose.
On November 9th, I will be walking with my pink sisters in the MD Anderson Boot Walk. Our team has already raised thousands of dollars, which will go towards The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center students, trainees, professionals, employees, and the public. The money will help initiate patient care through developing programs that include research and prevention. www.mdanderson.org/bootwalk
The Rose is a breast imaging center that provides access to screening, diagnostics, and treatment services regardless of a woman’s ability to pay. Their mission is to saving lives through quality breast health services, advocacy, and access to care for all. They also have a 3D mobile mammography program that services women from Matagorda to Shelby Counties. www.therose.org
As a family member or a friend of someone going through cancer, I suggest just being there and helping in any way possible. I was blessed to have an amazing support system, but not everyone gets the support they want and/or need. A few of my teacher friends got together, had Team Summer shirts made, and sold them to all my family and friends. They raised over $2,500 to help with hospital bills, parking, etc. Ben, my husband, and I were grateful for all the support and fortunate enough to be able to donate a portion of the funds to The Rose. One of my neighbors set up a Meal Care Calendar. After my surgery, I was not able to move around for several weeks, so having prepared meals was a blessing. Offering to watch the kids for a while or making a run to the grocery store, providing gift cards to restaurants that deliver, giving gift baskets that include soft button-down pajamas, magazines, dry shampoo, and other goodies were many of the generous contributions my support system made. Sometimes, it’s just having someone to talk to that makes it all that much better!