My name is Denise Hamm. I am 45 years old and currently an 8-year breast cancer survivor! At the age of 37, during a routine self-breast exam, I discovered a lump in my left breast. Initially, I was not alarmed as the lump felt familiar. Thirteen years earlier, I had a cyst that dissolved on its own. Feeling sure that the lump was just a cyst, I waited a month later before making an appointment to see if it would dissolve. However, to my dismay, it had not. Before my appointment and while lying down on my side, I discovered a different lump. It was bigger and felt different.
A mammogram and sonogram confirmed my lump was suspicious and required a needle biopsy. My children were only five and two at the time, so this was a difficult time for me. The biopsy was performed early January 2010. Approximately five days later, I received the call from the radiation department. I heard the words I feared the most: “We are sorry Ms. Hamm, but your results came back, and you have cancer.” It was that day; I longed for the day before. For many days, weeks, months and years later, I wanted to go back to the day before I heard those most dreaded words. After several doctor visits, I decided to remove my left breast. (I was determined to hold on to my non-cancerous breast!)
After a scheduled MRI, revealed there were several hot spots in the opposite breast. Fearing I had bilateral breast cancer, I went home and told my husband I was uncertain if the cancer was only in one breast. My husband looked at me and said, “We don’t need the breasts. We need you. If removing both breasts is what we need to do to keep you, let them take both of them. They can reconstruct them.” My husband’s words gave me the strength and courage to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction. The pathology report confirmed I had cancer in several quadrants in my left breast and cancer had started metastasizing to my left lymph nodes. There were pre-cancerous cells in the right breast, which were the hot spots from the MRI! A few months later, I began chemotherapy. And after the chemo, I was put on tamoxifen for seven years.
Here I am, eight years later and I am still on my cancer-free journey. I nevertheless get fearful every occasionally, of the cancer returning. Despite this, I try to stay positive, surround myself with positive people, and take life one day at a time.