Breast Cancer: A Survivor’s Story

Oct 9, 2023

Employment Enterprises founder and president Lovey Hammel shares her breast cancer survival story to raise awareness and empower other women.

At 52 years old, I was in great shape. I worked out three times each week and felt strong. I also followed the recommended to-do list for healthy living: maintain an appropriate weight through diet and exercise, do not smoke, and limit alcohol consumption. Check, check, and check.

I heeded the breast cancer awareness campaigns saying “mammograms save lives” and was diligent about getting mine annually. In March 2012, I had my mammogram and checked it off my to-do list for that year. I even opted for a (then) new 3D scan, which increased my expense since insurance did not pick up the cost of the extra test.

Meanwhile, as part of my healthy lifestyle, I continued to perform breast self-checks in the shower. Roughly every six weeks, I did this—although I didn’t think it was really necessary. Little did I know this healthy habit would potentially save my life.

In June of the same year, I felt a squishy lump forming. I wasn’t too worried about it as it was not the “hard pea” I was taught to look for. I did call my doctor, however. The office requested that I come in whenever I had a chance, since I had just had my mammogram three months prior. I was headed on vacation, so the doctor agreed that I could wait until I returned in August. Thinking back, I was overconfident that my lifestyle and awareness of breast cancer issues put me in the healthy column.

Around eight weeks later, I knew that the lump had gotten larger. Yet it was still very soft, like a small balloon. The doctor showed concern about its size, but based on its consistency thought that it might be a cyst that needed to be drained. Just in case, I was directed to get a biopsy (and not to wait).

Then the results of the biopsy came back—I had Triple Negative Breast Cancer. What a trauma shock and awakening. My life changed in 24 hours!

By the time of this diagnosis, the lump was the size of a quarter. Thinking that it may have been missed on the mammogram in March, the doctor reviewed those results. It was clean. The tumor had appeared and grown aggressively in under five months. My first lesson: cancer comes in hard pea shapes, squishy lumps, discoloration of skin, and anything that feels or looks abnormal.

The information—or lack of—on Triple Negative Breast Cancer is truly terrifying. It is a fast-growing cancer with a 33% survivor rate if it’s not caught early. Researchers have no idea what causes it, which leads to limited options for prevention.

My only viable option for containing the cancer was immediate heavy-dose chemotherapy to try and reduce the spread. Within a month, I was undergoing uncomfortable, but critical, treatments for 12 weeks. Only after this course of action did I have a double mastectomy in early 2013.

Eleven years later, I am truly blessed to be able to call myself a breast cancer survivor. I advocate for women to keep current with their breast health screenings, like mammograms. But instead of putting the emphasis on “mammograms save lives,” I share my story and urge them to maintain regular self-checks. This vital, yet underestimated, habit could be life-saving.

Self checks are critical because 57% of women—like me—find their own breast cancer. It’s an important statistic from the National Institutes of Health, and a reminder that we cannot stop at simply getting annual mammograms. If I had waited a year for another mammogram (or even 18 months, because we get busy), I may have had an even more frightening result.

So today, I live with the fact that I have no idea what caused my breast cancer. There are no suppression or prevention drugs. Instead, I keep doing the self checks and repeating my daily mantra: “Every day is joyful. Every day I’m healthy. Every day is a gift from God.” I urge all women to learn from my story, perform self-checks regularly, and share this information with friends and family. Together, we can raise breast cancer awareness—until there’s a cure.

Written by: Lovey Hammel

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