🎀 Breast Cancer Awareness Month 🎀

I can’t believe that it is already October 1st! Up until now, it seemed like 2020 was going by as slowly as possible, tormenting everyone with endless challenges and sacrifices. But it is finally October; Fall has begun, and the end of the year is around the corner.

I have to admit that October never really held any special significance for me in the past, but after going through my journey with breast cancer, it has a new meaning for me. October is a time to reflect on everything that I went through last year, to help newly diagnosed women in any way I can through a breast cancer app that I am active on, to support those going through treatments and surgeries, to chat with other survivors and see how they are coping, and to remember those that we have lost to this horrible disease.

I received a free eBook today that I want to share with everyone because, as I have learned over the last 19 months, knowledge is power! I share information that I trust with you, my readers, because I have been there. I know how scary the words “you have breast cancer” are and the thoughts that flood your brain after hearing it.

If you have any questions for me or if you just want someone to talk to, please contact me at any time. I have a Contact Me page on this website, or you can contact me through one of my Social Network links at the bottom of each page on this website.

Your free eBook, Breast Problems That Aren’t Breast Cancer, is here! We are thrilled to provide this helpful guide for you.

Click this link to get your free copy

Did you know National Breast Cancer Foundation is committed to helping people (including you!) with their breast health? NBCF is helping people at every step of the journey by providing breast health education, delivering access to vital early detection screenings and breast health services to those who could not otherwise afford them, and helping those diagnosed with breast cancer—and their families—navigate the complex cancer care system.

I hope you enjoy this free resource!

Breast Cancer Growth Rate

I came across this article recently and it was really shocking to me. I have always understood that breast cancer grows by cell division, but I had no idea of the timing from when it starts to when you can feel a lump in the breast like I did. I know that the information below is scary, but I am posting this to inform my readers because I truly believe that when it comes to breast cancer, early detection and information are key. If you won’t listen to me, listen to a doctor who makes it clear in the article below that a yearly mammogram is so incredibly important. As you know, I also believe that a monthly self-exam between mammograms is just as important. I don’t want anyone to go through what I have been through in the last 18 months, so if I can help just one reader understand the importance of mammograms then I have done my job.

Speaking of mammograms…my last mammogram was before my first surgery in April 2019. Now that I am over six months out from my last radiation treatment it is time to finally have a mammogram done to make sure that cancer has not come back. My surgeon explained that we couldn’t have a mammogram done any sooner than now because the radiation causes the images to look cloudy. So, next Monday I will have the mammogram done that my surgeon ordered back in February. I am scared, to say the least, but I am trying to have faith that all of the chemo and radiation treatments killed any tiny cancer cells that may have been too small to detect after my first surgery.

Ask an Expert: Breast cancer growth rate

From the expert staff of breast cancer research at the Robert W. Franz Cancer Research Center at Providence Portland Medical Center:

Like a lot of cancers, breast cancer grows by simple cell division. It begins as one malignant cell, which then divides and becomes two bad cells, which divide again and become four bad cells, and so on. Breast cancer has to divide 30 times before it can be felt. Up to the 28th cell division, neither you nor your doctor can detect it by hand.

With most breast cancers, each division takes one to two months, so by the time you can feel a cancerous lump, cancer has been in your body for two to five years. It can certainly seem like a lump appeared out of nowhere – especially if you or your doctor have recently examined your breasts and not felt anything suspicious – but in reality, cancer has simply doubled that one last time necessary to be noticeable. By the time you can feel it, a breast tumor is usually a little more than one-half inch in size – about a third the size of a golf ball. It has also been in your body long enough to have had a chance to spread.

This sounds scary, but what it really underscores is the importance of regular mammograms. These screening tests can usually detect breast cancer when it’s about one-quarter inch in size or smaller – a year or more before it would be detectable by hand. Mammograms also make possible the early diagnosis of some pre-cancerous conditions and early-stage cancers that appear as tiny calcifications (microcalcifications) on mammography but aren’t detectable by physical examination.

It’s important to realize that there are two types of mammograms:

screeningmammogram is performed in cases where there isn’t any known problem. This type of mammogram is used for annual exams.

A diagnostic mammogram is performed when there is a known problem that requires careful evaluation. Diagnostic mammograms provide much more extensive images than screening mammograms, such as views from additional angles and compression, or blow-up, views. Often an ultrasound will be done in addition to the mammogram if there is a palpable lump. Make sure you receive a diagnostic mammogram if you’ve found a lump.

Once a breast cancer gets big, every doubling is significant. If you find a lump, see your doctor as soon as possible. Don’t settle for just a mammogram if the mammogram doesn’t find anything. The next step should be a screening ultrasound, and if those results are indeterminate you need to get a biopsy. Ask your doctor for these tests if he or she doesn’t schedule them.

Breast Cancer Glossary: 41 Terms You Should Know

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer it was unimaginably overwhelming in so many ways. My head was spinning with questions and fears and like many newly diagnosed patients, I felt like I needed to quickly learn a new language. Little by little I began to understand my diagnosis and what it meant for me as a breast cancer patient. Now, 16 months later, I have come across all of these terms either through my own experiences, discussions with my doctors or by reading the endless sources of information that I have discovered along the way. In the beginning of my journey it would have been so helpful to have all of the information below in one place for me to reference. I hope by sharing this article I am able to help answer some of the questions you might have as a breast cancer patient or a caregiver to a breast cancer patient.

At the bottom of this article, Monica suggests writing your cancer story basics using this guide. I am finding that quite often people will ask me for this information whether it is in a new forum that I have joined or during a conversation I am having with someone. I have included my cancer story basics here in this blog post and on my “About Me” page.

My Cancer Story Basics: I was Dx at age 51 w/ ER/PR+, HER2-, IDC. I have had ACT, Rads, and I am on a 10 yr plan w/ HT, Anastrozole. My cancerversary is the date of Dx on February 25th, 2019. I have had a partial mastectomy, port-a-cath insertion, reconstruction w/reduction mammoplasty and insertion of breast prosthesis following reconstruction.

The author of this article, Monica Haro, is the community guide for the breast cancer support app BC Healthline. This particular app has been an amazing source of support for me both while I was in the middle of fighting breast cancer and also now that I am learning to live life as a survivor.

Medically reviewed by Krystal Cascetta, MD — Written by Monica Haro on July 6, 2020

Utterly overwhelmed is how I felt when I faced the uncertainty and devastation of my breast cancer diagnosis 5 years ago.

I dove into online communities to connect, observe, research, and be heard. When I did, I was lost on some of the language. There were so many terms, acronyms, and abbreviations to learn.

Some things that now seem obvious to understand weren’t while dealing with a brain processing the new trauma of my cancer diagnosis.

If you’re wondering what in the world a red devil, foob, expander, and ooph is, I’ve got you.

I assembled this glossary of some common language used in the breast cancer community in hopes of easing the way for the newly diagnosed, and empowering you to jump in on those online discussions with some general breast cancer terms.

ACT

A common group of chemo drugs including Adriamycin, Cytoxan, and Taxol.

BRCA1 and BRCA2

This is an abbreviation for BReast CAncer gene. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two genes that have been found to impact the chances of developing breast cancer, but they don’t cause cancer.

Cancerversary

There are many possible cancer anniversaries one might note. Defining those days to celebrate or commemorate is very personal and defined individually. They can trigger mixed emotions of trauma, wins, relief, joy, and fear.

The main canserversaries I observe are my date of diagnosis and date of my DIEP flap recon.

Chemo brain

This is cognitive dysfunction associated with chemo treatment that causes:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • memory lapses
  • inability to multitask
  • trouble remembering names, recalling words, or spelling common words

Chemo brain is real for me. I’m the queen of brain glitches.

Some experience chemo brain for the short term. Others, like me, have lingering chemo brain.

Here’s what else you need to know: hormone therapy, radiation, targeted therapy treatments, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as depression and anxiety, can also contribute to cognition issues.

Chemo teeth

Dental problems that may occur from chemo treatment. After chemo, I began to have dental problems I had never had before, including chipping teeth, increased cavities, and sensitive teeth.

I now find it’s often necessary to use a straw when drinking beverages as my teeth are sensitive post-chemo.

Co-survivor

Your ride-or-die support person.

DCIS

Ductal carcinoma in situ. Abnormal cells that begin growing along the lining of the milk ducts, but haven’t spread to surrounding breast tissue.

DD

Dose-dense. Chemo that’s administered with less recovery time between rounds than in a standard chemo treatment plan.

De novo

A person says they were “de novo” when their first and only breast cancer diagnosis was stage 4 and they’re living with metastatic disease.

Not all people living with stage 4 are diagnosed de novo. Their first diagnosis could have been early stage 1 to 3 and they later experienced a stage 4 metastatic recurrence.

Dx

Medical abbreviation for diagnosis.

Early stage breast cancer

Breast cancer stage 1–3 that hasn’t metastasized to bones and organs. Early stage breast cancer is typically any breast cancer that’s contained in the breast.

ER/PR

Estrogen receptor/progesterone receptor. Someone might ask what your hormone receptor status is. They’re basically asking if your cancer is ER/PR-positive, or ER/PR-negative.

Exchange surgery

Getting expanders removed and swapped out for breast implants.

Expanders

Deflated balloon-like structures placed under or over the pectoral muscle to make room for breast implants following a mastectomy.

They have a port that will be filled with saline injections over time to slowly fill up and expand tissue.

Explant

Removing breast implants. I explanted my implants and opted for a DIEP flap reconstruction. I have friends that have explanted to go flat.

Fills

Saline injected into your expanders over time to stretch chest tissue. Example: “I went in for fills today, I’m a little sore.”

Flap recon

A type of post-mastectomy reconstruction that involves making a breast mound out of tissue harvested from another part of your body.

Types of flap recon include:

  • Deep inferior epigastric artery perforator (DIEP) — skin, fat, and blood vessels from the abdomen
  • Transverse rectus abdominis muscle (TRAM) — muscle, skin, and fat from the lower abdomen
  • Gluteal artery perforator (GAP) — skin and fat from the buttocks
  • Transverse upper gracilis (TUG) — skin, fat, muscle, and blood vessels from the inner thigh
  • Latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction — skin, fat, muscle, and blood vessels from the upper back

Flat/flattie/uniboob

This is pretty self-explanatory, but what you need to know is there’s a flat community that has been doing advocacy work to normalize bilateral or unilateral flat so newbies know that flat reconstruction is an option on the recon menu.

See @flatclosurenow on Instagram for inspiration and resources.

Foobs

Fake boobs.

HER2

Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 is a protein that can play a role in the development of your breast cancer. Knowing if your HER2 status is negative or positive helps determine treatment plans.

HT

Hormone therapy. These are drugs — such as tamoxifen — that are used to block estrogen in some tissues while aromatase inhibitors lower estrogen levels. These help prevent recurrence or slow progression of cancer to prolong life.

IDC

Invasive ductal carcinoma. Cancer that begins in the milk duct and has spread to other areas of the breast.

ILC

Invasive lobular carcinoma. Cancer that begins in the milk-producing glands of the breast, then spreads to other parts of the breast.

Lymphedema

Lymphatic dysfunction. Swelling in the arms or other parts of the body after lymph nodes are surgically removed or damaged by radiation. It may never develop or it could develop years later.

MBC

Metastatic breast cancer. Cancer that has spread to other parts of the body such as the bones, liver, brain, or lungs. MBC is stage 4 cancer, which is the most serious stage.

Mets

Short for metastatic, metastasized, and metastasis. A person might say, “I have bone mets” or “that person is a member of the mets (stage 4) community.”

Mx

Mastectomy. A breast cancer treatment that involves removing the entire breast.

NED

No evidence of disease.

Ooph

Oophorectomy is the surgical removal of the ovaries. It’s one way some people with ER-positive cancer suppress estrogen in their bodies.

PS

Plastic surgeon.

Rads

Radiation. Radiation therapy is a breast cancer treatment that uses concentrated radiation beams to kill cancer cells.

Recon

Breast reconstruction where breast mounds are made after a mastectomy. They can be made from implants or your own skin and fat tissue.

Red devil

That’d be the A in ACT: Adriamycin. It’s one of the most powerful chemo drugs invented. It’s called the red devil because of its bright red appearance.

Adriamycin causes many of the classic symptoms you may associate with chemo: nausea, vomiting, hair loss, etc.

Scanxiety

The scanxiety is real! This is the general anxiety you might feel going in for any type of scan or waiting on scan results.

Irritability and weird breathing, anyone? That’s how it manifests with me. The good news is, I’ve learned some coping skills over the years.

Survivor

This word is generally understood outside the breast cancer community to describe someone who had stage 1–3 breast cancer and is done with surgeries or active treatment.

Survivorship

This means living with, through, and beyond cancer. It includes people who continue to have treatment over the long term to either reduce the risk of recurrence or to manage chronic disease.

I might say, “I’m 5 years into my survivorship,” and what I mean is I’m 5 years out from my original diagnosis.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy is non-cytotoxic chemotherapy drugs that can target cancer cells, but don’t affect healthy cells.

You may hear targeted therapy in reference to drugs that can be used to treat HER2-positive breast cancers such as:

  • Herceptin
  • Nerlynx
  • Tykerb
  • Perjeta
  • Kadcyla

TCHP

A common chemo treatment course for triple positive breast cancer consisting of Taxotere, carboplatin, Herceptin, and Perjeta.

Thriver

This word is used within the community to describe anyone of any stage who has had a breast cancer diagnosis.

It’s often used to evoke a positive and empowering vibe that we’re bigger than our disease and it doesn’t define us. Within the breast cancer community, people might identify as a survivor or a thriver.

TNBC

Triple-negative breast cancer is a type of breast cancer in which the cells don’t have ER/PR receptors or HER2 receptor traits.

Triple positive

When breast cancer is ER/PR-positive and HER2-positive.


Write your story

Try writing your cancer story basics using this guide. I keep mine saved in my phone so I can easily share my details when asked in online forums.

Here’s mine: {Monica Haro}

“I was Dx at age 42 w/ ER/PR+, HER2-, ILC. I did DD ACT, rads, and I’m on the 10 yr plan w/ HT, and thriving 5 yrs into my survivorship. My cancerversary is date of Dx on Sept. 18, 2014. I’ve had expanders w/ fills, implant exchange, explanted, and had DIEP flap recon. I have chemo brain. I had an ooph at 44 that put me in early menopause. I identify as an ally to the flat community.”

Monica Haro is a Bay Area native, where she’s presently raising her son Christian. She’s the community guide for the breast cancer support app BC Healthline, serves on the board of directors with Bay Area Young Survivors (BAYS), and has shown her breast cancer advocacy art exhibit with El Comalito Collective in Vallejo, California the past 3 years. Coffee, books, music, and art make her happy. Follow her on Instagram or connect with her via email.

Last medically reviewed on July 6, 2020