By AMANDA BEAM
Becki Rucker did everything she was supposed to do to detect breast cancer. So when she felt a lump in her left breast this past February, she knew it couldn’t be malignant. After all, her last mammogram had only been taken several months earlier and nothing abnormal had been detected.
But what could cause a mass like that anyway?
Concerned, Rucker took her worries to her doctor who promptly ordered an ultrasound accompanied by a digital mammogram. That previous August she had lost her brother to kidney cancer. With the grief from his death in the back of her mind, she underwent the tests for reassurance.
“I’ll never forget that day. The radiologist came into my room and said, ‘Uh, Ms. Rucker, your tissue looks normal but I understand the nurse said you have a visible lump,’” Rucker said. “I remember his words, ‘That’s an impressive lump.’”
With no conclusive answers from the scans, a biopsy was scheduled. After removing tissue from her breast the size of a fist, the doctor concluded the mass was indeed invasive lobular carcinoma, a less common form of breast cancer.
Most breast cancers begin in the milk ducts. Not lobular carcinoma. Instead, the malignancy begins in the milk-producing glands called the lobules. According to the American Cancer Society, only 11 percent of women between the years 2004-07 diagnosed with breast cancer had this particular variety.
In addition to it being less frequent, lobular carcinoma complicates matters even more by being difficult to spot. Mammograms have a hard time finding the cancer due to its different growth pattern. Lumps, the holy grail of self-detection, don’t always occur. Instead, the disease manifests itself through thickening breast tissue or causing areas of abnormal swelling or heaviness.
“I’ve learned so much about things … that you don’t really ever want to learn,” she said.
While Rucker had a definitive mass, she said medical personnel believe her slow-growing cancer may have started developing up to 10 years ago. Further testing of the biopsy gave her even more hope. Her cancer, luckily, had a low rate of reoccurrence.
“I do feel blessed. I do feel lucky. If you have to have cancer, I feel like I had a type that maybe wasn’t the most common type, but it was something that was not going to kill me,” Rucker said. “I’m a strong person and this isn’t going to beat me.”
In April, after considering all her options and discussing the treatment plans with her husband, the Henryville native chose to have a bilateral mastectomy to remove the tumor. Since the cancer hadn’t metastasized, no chemotherapy or radiation was needed.
“You have to make the decisions for yourself,” Rucker said. “My husband couldn’t make the decisions. My doctors couldn’t make the decisions. So what I felt like I needed to do was research and learned everything I could and then from all of that, make a decision that I felt like was best for me and not look back.”
But removing the cancer is only part of the healing process. Only months after the mastectomy, breast reconstruction has begun for Rucker. Spacers have been inserted underneath her chest muscles to stretch the skin. Over several stages, more fluid will steadily be added until space exists for permanent implants to be inserted. All the procedures, Rucker said, should be completed by early next year.
“I’m still in the middle of this journey and some days I get really frustrated and sad, and I cry,” Rucker said. “It’s an emotional journey. It’s hard to explain, but it’s also in a way brought me closer to God and I think that’s the positive of it.”
While faith has helped the 54-year-old find peace and solace, surviving cancer also gave Rucker a different perspective on life. Circumstances she found can change in a heartbeat. At times, people kid themselves into thinking they are in control and don’t need to depend on anyone.
A cancer diagnosis can change all that. Life for Rucker is more precious now. She takes less for granted, she said, and can step back from stressful situations, take a deep breath and put things in better perspective.
One thing she had never lost sight through her ordeal is the importance of speaking to others who have had breast cancer. Survivors, some of whom she had never met, reached out to Rucker with cards and kind words. In a sense, a sisterhood developed, one that continues to this day.
“It seems like people once they find out you have breast cancer, if they’ve had it, they’re willing to share their stories,” she said. “This may sound a little crazy, but … when I person says, ‘Let me show you my scars,’… it just helps you know what to expect.”
Continuing the camaraderie, Rucker, too, tries to offer hope and encouragement to those still fighting breast cancer. Telling her story, she hopes, might increase awareness of the disease and possibly even save lives.
“We’re still on the journey,” she said. “It’s a journey I didn’t choose but it’s one that I feel like I was given for a reason, to share my story with others and to hopefully help someone else.”