A breast cancer diagnosis never is a good thing to hear. It can be especially harsh for a young woman and her young family.
Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood announced Thursday that his 36-year-old wife, Mandi, has breast cancer. Flood, 37, said he is dropping out of the race for Nebraska governor to help his wife fight the disease.
The Norfolk couple, who celebrated their ninth anniversary Thursday, have two boys, ages 6 and 3. The couple learned Monday night that she has cancer.
“Until you get that news and you've got a young family and you're 37 and she's 36, you can't imagine the scenario,” Flood said. “When it happens, you just focus on what you need to do to get through.”
Mandi Flood already has had surgery to remove the tumor but is awaiting test results to determine whether the cancer has spread. Flood said they know her treatment will require chemotherapy.
Breast cancer is rare among women under age 40. Ninety-five percent of new breast cancer cases and 97 percent of breast cancer deaths occur in women 40 and older, the American Cancer Society says.
The five-year survival rate is lower among women diagnosed with breast cancer before age 40 — 84 percent — compared with women diagnosed at 40 or older — 90 percent — the group says.
Breast cancer can be more aggressive among young women than older women, said Dr. James Edney, chief of surgical oncology at the Nebraska Medical Center. Yet a cancer's aggressive nature can mean that it's more responsive to chemotherapy, he said, because chemo attacks fast-growing cells.
Nicole Bacan was 26 and nine months pregnant with her second child when she felt a lump in her right breast. On the same day that she had a cesarean section and gave birth to daughter Kyla, she had a breast biopsy.
Bacan had stage 2 cancer, meaning that the cancer had spread to surrounding breast tissue. It had not spread to the lymph nodes.
The diagnosis “was just overwhelming,” said Bacan, now 31. “But at the same time, I didn't really have time to feel sorry for myself because I had a 1-year-old at home and a newborn. That's probably what got me through it.”
Bacan, who lives near North Sioux City, S.D., and works in northeast Nebraska, met with Edney at the Nebraska Medical Center and chose to have a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. She didn't have to go through radiation but had four months of chemotherapy.
She tolerated the chemo OK, she said, but had a hard time dealing with the resulting hair loss.
“Looking back now, it seems so silly,” she said. “But it's huge.”
In September, one of Bacan's best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30. “To see her going through it,” she said, “I feel like I'm going through it again.”
Bacan accompanied her friend to her first chemo treatment. When the medical staff flushed out her friend's port before administering the chemo, she said, Bacan smelled the familiar bad smell and remembered the bad taste she'd have in her mouth during treatment. She had prepared her friend for the taste by giving her Jolly Rancher candies to suck on.
For the first two years after finishing chemo, Bacan had her blood checked every three months. That shifted to every six months and will go to once a year after five years post-diagnosis.
Flood said Thursday that he knows many Nebraskans have had to deal with cancer, and his family's is just one more case. His wife, he said, “is going to be fine long term, and we're going to do what it takes to make sure she'll be fine long term.” The family is headed to Disney World.
Flood said the couple decided, “Let's just take the boys on this trip and enjoy them and get out of town.”
They will figure out a treatment plan, he said, after they return.
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Self-exams have benefits, limitations
Women should become familiar with both the appearance and the feel of their breasts to detect any changes and report them promptly to their physician.
Although the American Cancer Society no longer recommends that all women perform monthly self-examinations, women should be informed about the potential benefits and limitations associated with self-exams.
Women who detect their own breast cancer usually find it outside of a structured breast self-exam, such as while bathing or getting dressed.
A woman who wishes to perform periodic self-exams should receive instruction from her health care provider and/or have her technique reviewed periodically.
Lumps are not necessarily abnormal. For women who are still menstruating, lumps can appear and disappear with the menstrual cycle. Most lumps that are detected and tested are not cancerous.
Source: American Cancer Society