Soldier Shares Her Story, Hopes to Improve Breast Cancer Awareness
In May 2008, Sgt. First Class Samantha Green was busy. A geographical bachelorette with a three-year old child, Green had her hands full preparing for a change of duty stations.
She had to pack the house up, arrange for a management company to rent out her home, clear and pass everything to the operations noncommissioned officer because her replacement had not made it in time for a right-seat-ride.
She forgot about her annual women's exam until the day before she was driving away. She would have liked to have canceled it, but it was required before she could sign out of her unit. She fully expected it to be the same old-same old exam she always received. She didn't have time for anything else. Unfortunately, the first words the doctor said, after apologizing for her cold hands was, "How long has this lump been here?"
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breast cancer is second only to non-melanoma skin cancer as the most common cancer among women in the United States and is also one of the leading causes of cancer death among women of all races.
"I didn't want to hear a word she said. I was driving away the next day, and I didn't have time to deal with a lump. I didn't want to deal with a lump. I went into full denial mode immediately," Green, who now works at First Army Division East, admitted. The only thing she said she remembered about the rest of the visit was her insistence that she'd have to take care of the lump when she arrived at her new duty station. She refused any literature because there wasn't room in the car. She didn't even want the doctor to make a referral.
"I told her that since I was headed to a new area, I didn't know the doctors or who my primary care physician would be. The truth was I just didn't want to think about it. If it thought about it or made plans, it would be real. I didn't want it to be real," Green said.
In 2008 more than 210-thousand women in the United States were diagnosed with breast cancer , and more than 40,-thousand women in the United States died from breast cancer, according to the CDC.
Green drove to her new duty station the next day. She forced herself not to think about the lump, focusing instead on finally reuniting with her husband, finding a house, finding a school for her child, and seeing family she hadn't seen in a while.
"I thought about everything I could to keep it off my mind. I decided that as long as I didn't think about it, I didn't have to do anything about it. I didn't want my husband to worry so I didn't tell him. I didn't want my family to worry so I didn't tell them either. When I arrived at my new unit, I didn't want them to think I was a slacker, so I didn't tell them. I pretty much made it go away for about three months," Green admitted.
Waiting is not good, said Lt. Col. Andrew Doyle, First Army Division East Surgeon. "First, it may not be cancer and knowing sooner is a huge relief for everybody. But if it is cancer, the earlier it is evaluated and treated, before it grows or spreads, the better the outcome. Most cancers are now found before they spread, and in these cases, 98.4 percent of patients survive. If the cancer is not detected until it has spread to other parts of the body, survival drops to as low as 23.8 percent."
Finally, Green realized she had to tell her husband. "That was when it became real," she remembered. "That was the minute 'lump' went from being a word to being something that could potentially kill me."
"Over 90 percent of cancers are found in the early stages, either localized or involving a regional lymph node. Up to 98 percent of women survive when detected at the earliest stage, and 84 percent survive if it has only spread to a regional lymph node," said Doyle.
Green's husband insisted she go to the doctor the next day. The lump was still there. Next stop, her first mammogram. Green was 35 years-old.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer will kill one in 36 women. More than 2.9 million breast cancer survivors reside in the United States.
"It was surreal," she remembered. "I was so happy my husband was there even if he had to stay in the waiting room. He had held my hand the whole time up until that point. I had to walk down the hall to the exam room by myself though. That was hard. I just kept thinking I was too young for all this. And the room was so cold. I didn't understand why the room had to be so cold. To this day, that's what I remember the most… how cold I was... inside and out."
The mammogram lived up to everything Green had heard. "The tray they put my 'girls' onto was freezing. The nurse apologized, but told me she was going to have to smash me flat. And she did. I thought I was going to have two pancakes when I left. I just focused on the pictures on the wall, the long drive back home, the work I had waiting for me … everything except what was going on. All I had to do was stand there and turn slightly. The nurse did all the work," Green remembered.
When it was over, Green and her husband, still holding hands, left the doctor's office. Two weeks later, she was back for the results, her husband was at her side.
"I almost cried when they told me it wasn't cancer," she remembered. "Then the doctor read me the riot act for waiting months to come get checked out. I can't believe I did that. I was so lucky that it wasn't something more serious."
Women should conduct a monthly breast exam and report any changes to their doctor, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation website.
"Early detection is the most important step to fighting breast cancer, and the best detection starts with monthly self-exams. Each woman knows their body the best and they will be the first ones to notice as soon as something is not normal, such as a lump or other symptom," said Doyle.
"I was so lucky. I did everything exactly wrong. I know very easily what could have happened. I've lost friends and family members to breast cancer. If I could have any wish, it would be that my daughter would never have to live with the fear of hearing a doctor say the word 'lump.' It's such a little word but it can bring your world crashing down," Green said.
"In general, living a healthy lifestyle will help prevent breast, and all types, of cancer. Don't smoke, get regular exercise, and have a healthy diet. Do your monthly self-exams and, if older than 40 get your regular mammograms," Doyle urged.
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