1 in 8 women develop invasive breast cancer (yes, you got the calculation—we’re talking 12%).
What’s highly surprising is that while there’s so much stress over our genetic heritage, 85% of breast cancers actually affect women with no family members who have suffered from those diseases. (Ready for more math? Compare this number to the first line!)
A 22% increased risk was seen among women who ate red meat once a day during their teens. So let’s calm down on the red meat, my friends!
That said, the USA ranks highest of all Western countries for the number of deaths from breast cancer that could have been avoided thanks to better insurance, access to insurance, and simply a faster process.
In America, an annual medical visit is required if you have a medical plan called HMO (Health Maintenance Organization—the cheapest and therefore the least flexible), or not, if you have a more flexible (therefore much more expensive) plan called PPO (Preferred Provider Organization). There are other systems, like Kaiser, where everything takes place in a single establishment: consultations, exams, surgeries, etc.
I’m lucky, I have access to PPO, which means I can go to a doctor of my choice. Be careful though, nothing is 100% covered and depending on your plan, you can be out of pocket from $20 to $75 for a simple doctor’s visit. As for X-rays or MRI exams—and in my case—the first $1,500 per year (approx. €1,300) is not reimbursed. After that, I receive coverage for up to 75%.
Important. In the USA, insurance providers are all-powerful: they can refuse an examination, a drug or a treatment. Appeals are possible, but rarely effective.
In short, you get the picture. Now let’s talk about my personal medical adventure over the past few weeks. As part of my Annual Wellness Visit, the doctor prescribed a mammogram in a center at the other end of town. I wasn’t too happy about this as the time lost in the round trip is tremendous. I take the mammogram, and I’m informed that the results will be sent to me by post (in 2019?!), within 2 weeks (why such a long delay?).
In 2019 they’re sending me my results within 2 weeks—and by mail!
In all cases, once the exam is done, I forget about it until two weeks later when a sort of heaviness in my breasts makes me think, “hey, I never received my results“. I tell myself that if there had been something to worry about, I would have been called, and therefore, no news is good news.
How naïve of me!
Still, I decide to call my doctor who is on vacation. I’m told to call back in a week. I don’t want to wait…I feel like I’m in the dark…something isn’t sitting well with me. So I insist, and I’m referred to the radiology center. I have to negotiate with them: I call three times until I finally receive by email a 2-line report which states, I quote, “your recent examination showed findings which require further imaging studies. Please call to schedule”.
Your recent examination showed findings which require further imaging studies.
So here I am: I know there’s “something” wrong, but what? I call several more times until finally I receive a complete report which shows the presence of 4 x 1.5cm masses in the left breast. Not 1, not 2, not 3… No, I’ve got an abundance…no less than 4! Apparently 3 look “normal”, but one of them does not look very pretty according to the report. I call my doctor’s office, and have to insist to talk to another physician since mine is on vacation and no one has seen fit to inform me of the results. I request the complementary exams that my results indicated are necessary. And what do they say to me?” No can do. You have to see a specialist or the insurance won’t cover them“. I’m then referred to a specialized service, which I call, and in the process hear them say: “well no, serious cases like yours (er, thank you for stressing me), are not covered by our services“.
Okay, so I launch into some intense online research to find the “best breast cancer center” in the city, and luckily enough, one of the best centers in the USA is here at home, in San Francisco. I call my doctor’s office back—since I’ve done their job for them—and ask for a referral to this center, the UCSF Breast Care Center.
You would think that after this, everything moves like clockwork.
After all, I’m already very stressed. I don’t talk to anyone about it so as not to give life to a potential monster—and above all, to not let it take up any more space in my mind.
Nope. It turns out that my medical office did not forward my file, and so I have to wait yet again, until everything is in order.
Wait? But who wants to wait under these conditions?!
I hold out as long as I can and then bite the bullet: I take my destiny in my own hands and call, call, call, and harass the center. I end up getting wind of a magic name—the one who seems to hold the “open sesame”—a certain Claudia who has the power to schedule the first appointment with a doctor. I’ve been told that there’s typically at least 5 weeks of waiting which is completely out of the question for me. After being thrown this info of 4 present masses, one of which doesn’t look great, I’m being made to hang tight for 5 weeks for a first appointment (!)—after which we have no idea of timing for further exams, analysis, and so on.
That’s it. I’m taking control.
I walk to the center myself, bringing my file by hand with the CD of the last mammogram. I give it to an adorable young man who tells me that he will take care of me. I trust him. Hey, everything that happens is a sign, good or bad depending on your mood :).
I’m told to call back the queen of programming that evening. Obviously it would have been too good to be true if all went smoothly; no, the beautiful Claudia does not answer, and does not call back…not that day nor the next. The next day she tries to reach me, but of course, I miss her call. I end up having it out on the phone, not really believing it (like a small miracle happening)…but she says that I need CDs of the other mammograms (those made at the other end of the city) before tomorrow noon if I want an appointment next Tuesday…ok, fine. I set aside all other tasks—my health being a priority—and spend my day following up on the CD, reports, and other documents, and return to the center to bring everything in by hand.
I have a few days of waiting ahead, so I start to calculate the probabilities: it seems that one in 8 women will have breast cancer…I look at my group of friends…I think about who’s had cancer before…I realize that this analysis has no value…I embark on an analysis of breast cancer cases in my family (very numerous and often affecting very young women), I do research…read articles…try to understand how, with my fasting every day between 16h to 20h, coupled with a healthy diet and not being a carrier of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, I could have developed cancer.
I reassure myself as best as I can.
Sometimes I sink into thinking that maybe I’m out of luck…So, I take this opportunity to send out my sponsorship file for my 2020 Antarctic Expedition #WomenCan, making bets with myself: if the first answer that I receive is positive, then everything will be fine, and or other such silly deals (don’t judge me!).
Silly, maybe—but when I receive a negative answer, it takes on a whole new meaning, striking me down from the confident stance I usually take, and then reminding me of my own motto: I am stronger than I think.
I extend my fasting even more during these long days of waiting, aiming for 24 hours in an effort to kill any potential cancer cells.
I meditate even more.
I don’t say anything to worry anyone, but I still confide in 4 friends who enable me to vent the stress out of a process charged with so much friction that you can literally get sick from the stress itself! Thank you Christine, Selina, Ksenia and Carol.
Finally, finally…after days on pins and needles, I meet with the doctor who will examine my case and decide on the next steps. I go there on foot (7,500 steps) with Dad, so as not to let myself enter a hellish spiral of poorly controlled stress. I meet a charming female doctor who asks me tons of questions, analyzes my mammogram and tells me that I have to do it all again. The advantage is that it’s still early in the day, she tells me, and we’ll be able to do a new mammogram, and then an ultrasound, if necessary.
She tells me that with my healthy lifestyle—fasting at least 16 hours, low carbohydrates, physical activity, meditation, etc.—I’m already doing everything she could recommend, and that I couldn’t do better. Her words are a comfort to my body and soul.
My basis for a healthy life: 4 Pillars (Yummy Nutrition, Easy Fitness, Motivation, Sleep & Stress Management). Low carbs (less than 50g net carbs a day), healthy fats, very little if no red meat, fish/seafood, good fiber intake. Little if no dairy. No aspartame. No alcohol. Daily fitness (yup we are animals and we need to move on a daily basis). 15 min minimum meditation daily. 80/20 approach: 80% perfection and 20% delicious imperfections. No deprivations.
30 minutes later we are done—a real pleasure because everything is finally moving. The results confirm the presence of a not-so-pretty mass…so we go for an ultrasound, and the head of the radiology department comes to deliver the final analysis: this mass doesn’t look great, so we’re going to make a biopsy (apparently 7) in order to analyze the tissue. We are no longer waiting, yes! Come back tomorrow, if possible, they say—we’ll fit you in..
At this point, I don’t know if I should be happy about the speed of the process or worry about it, since the obvious reason for such a rush is inevitably one that will break my already-low morale. I silence my doubts and throw myself into some intense cardio to push it out of my mind…
Oddly enough, on the day of the test which will determine whether or not the mass is malignant, I am relaxed and I sleep like a baby the night before. I feel sort of detached from the world, and it’s nice. I even do a live FB feed on the way…apparently I’m hiding my stress well!
Covered with warm blankets, taken care of by a Ukrainian nurse, and operated on by a Greek surgeon and an Ethiopian head of service (this operating room is certainly very Benetton since there’s also a Corsican, that’s me)—here we are, at the point of no return.
As the surgeon opens, wiggles and searches for the best angle of attack, I suddenly hear the head of the department exclaiming, “I love that!” Apparently, the burger-shaped mass (how ironic for me who doesn’t like burgers!) has burst, thus demonstrating that it was not a cancerous tumor-like solid mass, but rather a little joke played by my body: the cyst which had formed was extremely common—almost all women have cysts in their breasts—but mine decided to go dramatic and stress me out by taking on a strange form.
Goodness gracious…! They still take a biopsy, because after all we are already here, and everything is open, so why not have fun :), but our spirits are up—everyone is smiling, including me. At the time of writing this post, I don’t yet have the results of the biopsy, but I know they will be negative.
If I’ve chosen to share this little drama that—thank G-d—ended well, it is to tell you this: GET YOUR MAMMOGRAMS! They save lives. Do not listen to self-proclaimed experts who tell you that these x-rays cause more problems than they cure. This is simply not true.
GET YOUR MAMMOGRAMS!
It is much easier to treat cancer when it is detected early, than when it has already evolved.
Fight, if the system gets in your way (as it can be here in the USA)—your health is your most precious asset. Take advantage of all opportunities to screen for problems before they become serious. Note though that 20% of cancers are NOT detected and that there are quite a lot of false positive. But all in all, this exam has proven itself worthy.
A special thank you to UCSF Breast Center! From the welcoming young guy I met as soon as I exited the elevator on the 3rd floor (who even talked a bit in French to me), to the smiling staff, to an amazing waiting area offering teas and nutrition tips (all of which I already share with you but I was surprised to find them in a hospital!), to the efficiency of the entire process once I was “in”. Thank you guys. I don’t wish to be sick in the future but if I were, I would trust you.
And continue to follow a diet low in sugar (the link between a diet rich in carbohydrates and cancer has been established without any doubt), and fast 16 hours as often as possible (the link between intermittent fasting and a reduction in the rate of cancers or the rate of cancer growth has also been established beyond all doubt, read the latest study on the subject conducted by UCSF).
The link between healthy fasting and cancer has been established. The link between a low-carbohydrate diet and cancer has also been established beyond all doubt.
If you’d like to improve the quality of your health & lifestyles, don’t hesitate to join my award-winning weight loss and wellness coaching program, LeBootCamp where I personally coach you to your goals!
To your health,
Your LeBootCamp Weight Loss & Wellness Coach