Forty years ago, I wrote a feature about breast cancer for the Billings Gazette. I chanced upon it a few days ago and am shocked at the reality of the diagnosis back then. Everyone had a mastectomy and their nodes taken out. No one had implants. Everyone had radiation. Mammograms were suspect. The only estrogen blocker was a hystrectomy to remove your ovaries.
It was an emotional story to write because it was built around the impact on a few women’s lives and relationships, one of them was a good friend who had kept her treatment a secret. Her husband cried when he (also secretly) told me his side of the story.
It is so different now.
I have two friends who had lumpectomies a few weeks ago. They are in radiation now and then will go on an anti-estrogen pill. This is the same treatment that I had in 1999 (21 years after I wrote the article.) When my cancer returned in 2005, I chose double mastectomies and implants. Of my several friends and relatives who have had breast cancer, some had chemo as well as radiation, only a few had mastectomies. And three have died.
You might find it of interest to read some excepts about the brutality of then and think about what the better reality will be in 20-40 years.
Breast Cancer: Research offers hope for the future; regular examinations offer life now
By Catherine Healy, Of The Gazette Staff
Breast cancer is a matter of life and death. When it comes to life, the new chemical therapies discovered in the past two years offer a better change to live. But the survivor will still have to live with her chest cratered as if one bosom had been removed with an ice cream scoop. The scars may run from near her elbow almost to her waist.
Despite some stories about surgeons removing only the malignant lump from a breast without amputating it, the breast usually goes. That is the way it is here in Billings. That is the way it is at the major medical centers….
Some statistics indicate one out of every 13 women in the U.S. will have breast cancer sometime in her life. Others decrease the percentage to one out of 18, according to Dr. Adrian Johnson, a Billings surgeon. . . .
SURGERY IS CERTAIN
. . . In Billings, such reconstruction surgery is rare.
Although local surgeons don’t see permanent falsies as a trend, a local plastic surgeon predicts in five years it will be “fairly common” here.
He justified the surgeons’ hesitation, saying “General surgeons want their patient cured of cancer first. Plastic surgeons have to prove we can do a good job before they say ‘Go ahead. . . .”
RESEARCH IS PROMISING
Doctors here say predictive research is being done using mammograms and bone scans, which are another form of x-ray.
Refinements in new types of chemotherapy are expected.
The female hormone, estrogen, is receiving its share of research attention too. The growth of some breast cancers are affected by a woman’s hormone level, explained Dr. [David] Meyers. Tests for the tumor’s hormone responsiveness are made as part of the surgery and if breast cancer returns, then the level of the hormones can be checked again to see whether they are speeding up the cancer’s growth. If so, the estrogen can then be reduced or eliminated either through medicine or by removing her ovaries.
But for now, until the elusive cure for cancer is discovered, the daughters’ [of women quoted in the article] best hope is to be on the alert for lumps in their breasts. And if they find one, to conquer their very human tendency of hoping the lump will go away if they ignore it. For, the sooner a malignant lump is found, the better the chances that they will survive.