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Survivor's story: Leslie Sweatman

Editor's Note: October is breast cancer awareness month, and each Saturday the Daily Post will publish the story of a local breast cancer survivor, culminating with the "Read Pink" edition on Oct. 27. The feature will take readers through the battle in a survivor's own words.

My diagnosis: I found the lump in my breast myself by accident. I was scratching an itch on my right shoulder with my left hand and when I withdrew my hand, I dragged it across my chest. I was in my pajamas so I was not wearing a bra. I happened to feel the lump. That was a Sunday evening.

I called my gynecologist on Monday and they were able to get me an appointment on Tuesday. She sent me for a diagnostic mammogram/ultrasound and had me make an appointment with a surgeon. The ultrasound confirmed the tumor, but it was not detectable on a mammogram. This is because the tumor was the same density as the surrounding healthy breast tissue.

I then underwent a biopsy which confirmed that I had breast cancer.

My battle: My battle with breast cancer is really only beginning. On my birthday, I had a double mastectomy with the first stage of reconstruction (I have an implant that will be slowly filled with saline in order to stretch the skin. A second surgery will be needed to implant a permanent silicon implant). The final pathology of the tumor showed clear margins with no involvement of the lymph nodes. I had what they call "sentinel node mapping," which allowed them to determine which of my lymph nodes where the primary nodes that needed to be removed and examined for cancer cells.

I am waiting on the results of a test on the tumor called "onco-type" testing. The outcome of this test will determine whether or not I need chemotherapy. Hormone therapy (to deplete my body of estrogen and progesterone since the tumor was "fed" by hormones) is very likely.

My advice: My best advice is to conduct your monthly breast exams and have your yearly mammograms. I had just had a mammogram done in February that did not detect this cancer, so be sure to do your monthly self exams! If you find anything at all during a breast exam, have it checked out immediately. The sooner cancer is detected, the better your chance of survival.

Also, don't be afraid to ask your friends and family for the support you need (from helping to cook for your family, to cleaning your house, to being a taxi service for your kids). People want to help you and this is not the time for pride.

My first move was to request prayer from everyone on behalf of me and my family. It is amazing how much it helps to know that those who love you are praying for you. Use your support system because you will need all your strength to fight for your life.