When women take an active role in their healthcare, outcomes are always better. Stacy Feltman learned this the hard way in 2015. Stacy was a high-risk patient for breast cancer. Her mother and aunt both had breast cancer, and Stacy had dense breasts, which makes it more difficult for doctors to spot breast cancer on a mammogram. Before she was diagnosed, Stacy had three mammograms and all of them were clear.
“Every time I would go to my doctor, she told me I had dense breasts and that I needed an MRI or an ultrasound. I assumed it would be on the order at the imaging center, but when I got there, they told me I was just there for a mammogram. This went on for several years. I thought they know my history, what they ordered is what I need. If it wasn’t on the order, I thought I didn’t need it yet. Maybe my doctor meant I needed it later.”
Stacy was a busy mom with three kids and a career as a realtor. She wasn’t an expert in breast cancer, but she assumed her doctors would direct her to the right tests, given her personal and family history. If she’d understood what her doctor meant when she said, “Get an MRI or ultrasound,” she would have pressed for one. Unfortunately, by the time she found out how important they were, it was already too late.
“My last mammogram was in February 2015, and it was clean. In April, I had back surgery, and while I was recuperating, I felt my breast changing. I made an appointment with my OBGYN, who’d delivered my third child, but when I arrived, she wasn’t there. I talked to her assistant instead, and she told me I had dense breasts, but ‘everything was fine.’”
Nevertheless, the lump kept getting bigger and harder. Then, in June, she noticed some milk leaking out of her breast and she knew something was seriously wrong.
“I went back to my OBGYN, and she ordered an MRI and an ultrasound. They told me right then and there ‘You don’t have dense breasts. You have a mass.’ Literally, my body started shaking. All that time I knew something was changing, but I was told ‘You’re fine. You just have dense breasts.’ The problem was that I wasn’t with the right doctor. Now I’ve learned that if you have dense breasts or a family history, you should be with a specialist and you should be getting MRIs and ultrasounds. My OBGYN was handling too much. She can’t deliver babies, do pap smears, and take care of breast health, which is so important.”
Fortunately, Stacy had a strong support group. After she’d recovered from the shock of her breast cancer diagnosis, her husband and her friends started looking up cancer doctors. The first name they found was Dr. Lisa Curcio, a cancer surgeon at Breastlink Laguna Hills. Dr. Curcio brought her in right away for a biopsy. She got the results back on June 30, her 14th wedding anniversary, but Stacy already knew what they would be. Dr. Curcio scheduled surgery for the end of August. Given her family history, Stacy opted for double mastectomy. Dr. Gaon at Finesse Plastic Surgery, worked with Dr. Curcio to reconstruct Stacy’s breasts, helping restore what had been lost.
“I’m super happy with the results, 10 out of 10,” Stacy told us. “I’m very lucky, no complications. They look great. That’s the silver lining.”
Stacy hopes women will be able to learn from her experience and avoid her mistakes. Her advice:
“Find out if you have dense breasts or not. Many women don’t know what they are and what that means. If you have dense breasts and a family history of breast cancer, you should be with a breast specialist and you should be getting MRIs and ultrasounds. Talk to your doctor about them.
“Be an advocate for your own care. When I went to my OBGYN because I was suspicious of something and they told me I was fine and sent me home, that’s not okay. Be with a doctor that knows your personal and family history and can give you advice you can trust.”
When Stacy tells women her mammogram didn’t find her cancer, it scares them. They don’t understand that breast cancer is a complex disease and no one test can tell you if you’re cancer-free. Finding a physician who understands that may be life saving.
“Most women don’t know breast cancer specialists are out there. Neither did I. That’s why I feel it’s important that women hear my story.”