by Renée Canada
With more than 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the United States in 2011, it isn’t hard to find numerous resources and a great number of women willing to speak about living with this disease. One of those women I interviewed in 2000, Doris Dietart, then 50, surprised me when she told me that she had been living with the disease for more than 28 years.
Dietart was 22 when she was diagnosed. When she showed the gynecologist the lump in her breast, he was fairly certain that it was a non-cancerous cyst. Fortunately, he had the sagacity to investigate further. To test for cancer, he ordered a biopsy, a surgical procedure to remove the lump.
“Thank goodness, I didn’t get the run-around that has happened to so many [young women],” Dietart said. At that time in her life, Dietart wouldn’t have questioned her doctors’ knowledge and authority. “If they’d said, ‘Oh it’s nothing, let’s wait and check it in six months’, I’d have gone jauntily on my way, relieved that all was all right.”
When she awoke from the surgery that removed the lump, Dietart called out to her mother, “It was [cancerous], wasn’t it?” Her mom nodded, confirming Dietart’s suspicions. Only a few years married and the mother of a three-year-old girl, Dietart was diagnosed with breast cancer.
According to Ernie Bodai, MD, director of the Breast Health Center at Kaiser Permanente Sacramento, estimated that 99 out of 100 of the breast lumps and complaints that teenagers and women in their 20s have are benign, most often in the form of cysts or fibroadenomas. However, women as young as 17 have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Dietart urges women to trust their instincts and to be aggressive about investigating suspicious lumps. However, sometimes that’s easier said than done.