When I was 6 years old, I developed a life-long, crippling fear of cancer. There was really no reason for me to be afraid. I had no family history of cancer or friends who experienced it. While the fear was irrational at the time, cancer soon became a very important part of my story.
At 28 years old, my younger sister had a seizure and was later diagnosed with a glioblastoma. While she was being treated, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She died 9 months later. My sister died soon after. My father was then diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer. He was treated as best as possible and died 4.5 years later.
My fear, anxiety, and now, family history led me to start getting mammograms at about 35. I did regular self-exams, sometimes multiple times a month. When I was 48, I went for my annual mammogram, and for the first time, I was called back for repeat imaging. I had no symptoms, felt no lumps in my breasts. I returned for enhanced imaging and convinced the doctor to do a biopsy at the same time. The next day, I got the call. I had cancer.
Thankfully, my cancer was caught early, and it had not moved to my lymph nodes. My doctor told me that, because of where the tumor was located in my breast and without the benefit of digital mammography, it would have taken about 5 years to be able to feel a lump in a self-exam and that we would be having a much different conversation. My diligence with annual mammograms saved my life.
My other sister was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. But, like me, she caught her breast cancer early with regular mammograms and is doing well. We are absolutely alive because of early detection.
I am now 11 years cancer-free and feeling great. I give in less to the fear and know that with early detection, cancer can be treatable and survivable. I continue to get my annual mammograms, and after genetic testing showed that I have a higher risk of developing colon cancer, I also get regular colonoscopies. If anything comes up, I’m determined to catch it early.
Following my diagnosis, I committed to running marathons and raising money for breast cancer-related organizations. To date, I have run 12 marathons and have raised nearly $81,000. I will very proudly be running the 126th Boston Marathon alongside my son, Dylan, who is a FDNY firefighter and a member of Team DetecTogether. I have incredible gratitude for early detection, the work done by DetecTogether and their support of their charity athletes.