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My Story

When people find out that I am a cancer survivor they typically reply with shock and disbelief.

When people find out that I am a cancer survivor they typically reply with shock and disbelief.

“Really? But you’re so young,” they say.

“Yes, I had a double mastectomy in 2012,” I usually reply. Then in my mind I count to ten to see how long it takes for them to stare directly at my chest. Sometimes I get to the count of four.

Breast Cancer does not run in my family. In fact, I was an atypical “candidate” for a breast cancer diagnosis: no family history, I was 32 years old at the time, breastfed two healthy children and I was at a healthy weight.

For a while though, I noticed something was off. My right breast just started to feel different. It felt heavier and after a little while I noticed that my bras weren’t fitting as they should. I went to the doctors and asked if it was something I should be concerned about but was reassured that it was just run of the mill asymmetry.

About a year and a half later in a totally unrelated problem I’d broken a bone in my foot and it was still tender even after it had healed. So I called in to my doctor to get it checked out.

The night before my appointment as I was getting ready for bed, I noticed my right breast felt heavy and full, almost as if I was breastfeeding. The first thing that popped into my mind was, ‘I wonder if I’m pregnant.’ So I sort of pushed down on the area that felt full. I looked down and noticed what looked like orange or pink tinged milk coming from my body.

The next day after the doctor looked at my foot I nonchalantly mentioned it to her.

“I’ll be honest, when we see blood it’s usually not good,” she said. I left the office that day with three requisitions; one for an X-ray of my foot, one for a breast ultrasound, and one for a mammogram.

About a week later I was getting ready to go and do my Wednesday grocery shopping and I happened to trip and drop my purse on the ground. Out tumbled all kinds of purse junk; papers, snacks, toys, and the requisition for my mammogram. Which literally fell on top of all my purse junk face up! ‘Mammogram. Wednesday. Brantford General Hospital. 9:30am.’ it read. I believe this was a miracle.

“Oh no!” I shouted. I looked at the clock on the stove. It was 9:10am! I grabbed my keys and flew out the door.

First of all, I was not prepared for what a mammogram actually is. If you are lucky like me, a very kind and gentle nurse will take your breasts, one at a time, and place them gently on a cute little table just for boobs. ‘This ain’t so bad.’ I thought to myself.

It was then that my kind and gentle nurse did an about face and became the executioner, squashing my parts in an iron maiden of sorts, pinning me to the little boob table.

“Stand very still,” she said to me sweetly and patted me on the back.

“I can’t go anywhere at the moment,” I joked.

About ten minutes later the radiologist came in. She said, “We had to magnify your mammogram to the highest magnifications that we have, and when we do that I am seeing this very faint cluster of calcifications in your right breast. There are no lumps, but I’d like to biopsy one of those calcifications.”

Waiting on the results felt like the longest week of my life. Finally my doctor confirmed I had Ductal Carcinoma In Situ – an early form of breast cancer. So early in fact, that from the biopsy they saw pre-cancerous cells before they matured. I was afraid, but I was also humbled and in awe of the Creator’s protection. He allowed this cancer to be discovered before it became out of control. Another miracle.

After further consultation my medical team at the Juravinski Cancer Centre recommended a double mastectomy. No radiation, no chemotherapy and no hormone pills. I knew that was what I wanted to do. A year and a half of reconstructive surgery later, I now have what we breast cancer survivors call “foobs”. That is, fake boobs. I don’t mind them, but they sure don’t compare to the real thing.

On Bread & Cheese Day, Cancer Care Ontario has arranged to have a mobile cancer screening bus come to Six Nations. On this bus you can have a mammogram, a pap test, or get a stool kit to check for breast, cervical or colon cancer. When I found out, I told them I wanted to help.

My friend Dr. East said that current breast, cervical and colon cancer screening in Ontario are the best method of early detection, and early detection of these cancers offers patients the most effective treatment. If you are thinking quietly in the back of your mind, ‘I should go and have that checked’, perhaps this is your opportunity. If sharing my story can do anything to help any one of you I pray that it does.

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Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow

Nahnda Garlow is Onondaga under the wing of the Beaver Clan of Six Nations. Nahnda has been a journalist with the Two Row Times since it's founding in 2013. She is a self-proclaimed "rez girl" who brings to the Two Row Times years of experience as a Haudenosaunee cultural interpreter, traditional dancer and beadwork aficionado. Nahnda is a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Native American Journalists Association.

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