JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – “What in God’s green earth is that,” thought News4Jax reporter Ashley Harding when she found a small lump in one of her breasts as she was performing a self-exam three years ago. She said she was in the shower when she felt what she described as a BB-sized lump.
Harding, who reports during The Morning Show, immediately thought, “Oh My God, what if I have breast cancer?”
She does not have any family history of the disease, but she knew what she was feeling was not normal. A rush of emotions then followed as she called her doctor, who agreed she needed a sonogram and a mammogram to determine the next step.
At just 31 years old, Harding’s immediate concern was what breast cancer would mean for her family. Harding is married and, at the time, her son was just 2 years old.
“My biggest fear: Am I going to be able to take care of my child the same way?” she explained, referring to her son, Cal, who is now in kindergarten. “He keeps me on my feet, and I need to have a lot of energy. I can’t imagine not having that energy to be there for him.”
Harding, a seasoned reporter, had heard about and covered stories involving young women diagnosed with breast cancer. She couldn’t help but worry as she waited for the results of tests to determine if the lump was cancerous.
After a week of waiting, she learned the lump was benign, non-cancerous. She was relieved not just about the news, but also that during the process she learned something she had not known about herself.
“I have dense breast tissue, and I had no idea what that actually means,” she explained. “What it means is that my own breast tissue, because of the way it is, makes it harder to detect cancer.”
With this kind of breast tissue and no family history of breast cancer, doctors recommend women like Harding receive a 3D mammogram as opposed to the traditional mammogram offered on a yearly basis. She may also be a candidate for a contrast-enhanced mammogram -- or CEM.
Oncologist Dr. Scot Ackerman said women with no family history of breast cancer are recommended to undergo a yearly mammogram starting at the age of 40. Harding was much younger, which is why breast self-exams are so important.
Ackerman said 40% of diagnosed breast cancer cases are detected by women who felt a lump and then contacted their doctor. Women with an average risk of breast cancer should start performing self-exams at the age of 20. They should undergo a clinical exam every 1-3 years.
Women considered high-risk of breast cancer should start performing self-exams at the age of 20 with clinical exams conducted every six months starting 10 years before the age at which the youngest family member was diagnosed.
For younger women, a breast self-exam should be performed 7-10 days after your menstrual cycle ends to avoid increased breast tenderness and swelling. Older women, who are no longer menstruating, should pick the same day every month. Both age groups should look for changes from the previous month’s exam. If that happens, you should contact your doctor immediately.
“I feel that there is potentially a misconception among younger women. ‘This can’t happen to me.’ That it only happens to older women,” said Harding, which is why she is sharing her story. “I had quite a scare, quite a scare. You need to be your own best advocate and you need to remember this can happen, so we can be there for our loved ones.”