How high-risk screening gave me power over breast cancer


by Guest Contributor

May 15, 2024

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022, it was in a very early stage and non-aggressive—all the things you want to hear when it comes to cancer. While I felt confident that she was going to be fine, she later told me one of the biggest worries in the back of her mind wasn’t about her breast cancer diagnosis. It was about me.

Breast cancer can run in families. And my mom was worried that she might have passed along genetics that could put me at risk. After I told her things would be OK and we’d get through this together, I remember her saying, “I want you to be OK, too.”

Luckily, I knew exactly where to go—the High-Risk Breast Screening Program at Baylor University Medical Center.  At my next mammogram, I requested to talk with someone about my risk.


An in-depth look at my risk for breast cancer

Through the high-risk program, I spoke with a nurse navigator about my risk factors. She asked me questions that went deep into my lifestyle and family history—from how many vegetables I ate in a week to the health of blood relatives as far back and as wide as I could remember.

With this information, I received a lifetime risk score. There was a 36% chance over the course of my life that I would have breast cancer, and the program recommended advanced screenings. Along with an annual mammogram, I would have doctor-administered breast exams and an annual breast MRI.

The routine check that caught my breast cancer

After my risk assessment, I followed my high-risk screening schedule, including having a breast exam and then a mammogram. My nurse navigator would check in to ask how things were going and let me know what was coming up next. I felt like I was on the right track. She said, “Just keep doing what you’re doing! You’re doing all the right things.”

As I cared for my health, I also continued to support my mom. She chose to have a double mastectomy and ended up needing chemotherapy treatment and an additional surgery. Before that second surgery in July 2023, my mom and I went on a trip to Tahoe to celebrate her completing chemo. We thought this cancer story was soon coming to an end.

Then, in October, I had my first breast MRI as part of my screening plan. About 4 hours later, I got a call. My MRI had shown something suspicious, and I needed an ultrasound. After the ultrasound, I had a biopsy, where they took three little cores of tissue from my breast for testing.

On November 10, the radiologist called. He said, “It’s not the news that we wanted, but it’s the best case of a bad scenario.” They had found a small cancerous tumor in my breast, but it was less than a centimeter, not aggressive and had been caught very early.

In the know and in control at every step of my breast cancer journey

I got the news about my breast cancer on a Friday, and I was able to see my breast surgeon on Monday. She had such an amazing approach, and it was incredible how she was able to explain a very complicated thing in a simple way.

Because I had what she called “a very well-behaved tumor,” my care plan would most likely be a lumpectomy (a surgery to remove the cancer cells, so most of your breast remains intact) and radiation. However, because of my family history, she said it was my choice if I’d rather have a double mastectomy.

After genetic testing determined my cancer wasn’t familial and after researching my options, I chose a lumpectomy, followed by radiation.

To help me keep a sense of control, I created a binder to keep up with everything. I made a page for surgery, oncology, radiology, PT, receipts, genetic testing and more, and in the front, I kept notes and cards. So many people came out of the woodwork to support me. I took my binder to everything, which meant I had the love of all these people with me, too.

On December 11, my mom had breast reconstruction surgery, and on December 12, I had a lumpectomy. I was nervous, but everyone was so good about explaining step by step what to expect throughout the day. Additional testing confirmed that I didn’t need chemotherapy, so I completed my four weeks of radiation.

Because of my mom and my high-risk screenings, we caught my cancer so early. Because of all the tests and my very compassionate team, I knew so much information and was part of every decision. My breast cancer was disruptive to my life, but it never felt life-threatening.


The more information about breast health, the better

Going through breast cancer along with my mom was a surreal experience. But today, we’re both doing well and cancer-free. Even with cancer, not much has changed in my life. I still get to enjoy spending time with my husband and three poodles, traveling, cooking, volunteering in the local neighborhood and gardening. I love to grow vegetables, and I’m always surrounded by plants—just like my mom.

I’ve learned so much about breast cancer, its history and the treatments. People have been studying and treating breast cancer for thousands of years. It was encouraging to know that I wasn’t the first person to go through this and to have a team that guided me through each step.

Breast cancer can be scary, but with knowledge, that fear doesn’t have to take over. You’re in control of making the best choices for yourself, no matter the situation.

Get to know your health and your body, follow the recommendations for screenings, and stay on top of it. The more information you have and the earlier you have it, the better off you’re going to be.

Speak with your doctor about annual mammograms and how to be proactive about your breast health. Find care near you. 

This blog was contributed by Kristn Owens, breast cancer survivor.

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