WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed breast cancer survivors as
part of a series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The series, called "Me
& the Girls," explores the personal stories of these women after they were
diagnosed with breast cancer.
Breast cancer survivor Jennifer Mukai, 43, lives in the Seattle area. Mukai
got her first-ever mammogram in May 2009, right after turning 43. That
mammogram led to her breast cancer diagnosis.
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Mammograms don't determine whether someone has breast cancer. But they can
show a suspicious spot that warrants further testing.
Mukai says her first mammogram showed some suspicious spots in her right
breast. She quickly got a follow-up mammogram and an ultrasound to take another
look, and then a biopsy. While she was getting those tests and waiting for the
results, she did some research and learned that it was unlikely but possible
that she had cancer. "I prepared for the worst-case scenario," Mukai says.
She was diagnosed with a tumor in her right breast. She had considered
herself to be in good health, with no chronic illnesses. And breast cancer is
usually found in older women. So before her diagnosis, breast cancer wasn't on
her radar. "That didn't cross my mind," Mukai says.
The tumor was tiny, she says, and the doctors she talked with said she could
have a lumpectomy (removing the tumor and saving the rest of her breast)
followed by radiation. Mastectomy (surgery to remove the breast) was an option,
but it wasn't a necessity.
The diagnosis was still "a bit of a shock," she says. And she counts herself
as "very lucky" to have found it. "Even though it's not good news, it's not a
death sentence that it would have been years ago," she says.
Aggressive approach: Mukai did her homework, talking with her doctors
and weighing the pros and cons of each surgical option.
"It's life-altering, or body-altering, decisions that you have to make, and
getting yourself educated helps you initiate conversations with your doctor
that you can understand and make the right one, so you feel much better about
making those decisions," says Mukai.
"I decided on bilateral mastectomy," she says. That's surgery to remove both
breasts -- the one with the tumor and the other one, which showed no signs of
Mukai wasn't keen on the idea of getting radiation therapy, and she also
wanted to minimize her risk of recurrence.
"For me, it was a matter of survival," Mukai says. "I really didn't want to
go through this again, given that I have, perhaps, 40-plus years to live.
... My breasts are a part of me, but they don't define who I am. So I
really had no issues taking them away."
Genetic testing showed no BRCA gene mutations tied to breast cancer or