Help for a young mom
In June 2011, Anjali Rao, Fremont, was just 37 years old. She was fit, didn’t smoke and ate well. The only reason she thought about her risk for breast cancer was when she remembered family stories about an aunt who had died young, perhaps of something that affected her chest or breasts, Anjali wasn’t sure.
Because of a possible family history of breast cancer, her ob/gyn, Dr. Prasanna Menon, suggested she go ahead and get her first mammogram even though she wasn’t yet 40, the time when women are advised to start getting screened.
“I thought she was just being extra cautious, but when I hadn’t done it at the time of my next visit, she pressed harder,” Anjali says. “She told me a mammogram is only good if you get one.”
It’s a good thing she did. A digital mammogram, with computer aided detection technology, showed micro calcifications, which a biopsy showed to be DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ which is abnormal cells inside a milk duct in the breast). DCIS is considered one of the earliest stages of breast cancer and is readily detected by screening mammograms.
A subsequent MRI then showed a suspicious area in Anjali’s other breast. “I was so scared and worried,” she says. “My whole world had come crashing down around me. I had a family, with two young kids. Now we were talking about not just one breast involved but two! I was an emotional mess.”
A biopsy of the second breast was clear, but the relief of finding out is not what Anjali remembers best about her experience. “I think the word went out among the team that this young mom really needs help. The pathologist called me right away to tell me that the cancer had been caught early and my chances were very good. My surgeon helped me sort through the treatment options. Everyone went above and beyond what I expected.”
What meant the most to her, Anjali says, was the understanding and compassion of members of the staff at El Camino Hospital’s Breast Screening Center.
“As I was debating whether to have a mastectomy or a lumpectomy followed by radiation, one of the technologist shared with me that she knew exactly how I felt. It turned out not to be just words. She herself had had breast cancer and a mastectomy.
“Showing and telling me that I was going to get through this experience meant everything to me. I was impressed by how good she looked which helped me make the decision to choose mastectomy just as she had done.”.
Anjali, who works part time as an intercultural trainer, is going for her yoga certification and plans to work with women who have experienced cancer just as she has.
“So much changes when you have cancer, from how you feel emotionally to how you feel about your body. I was helped so much, and now I want to continue to help others in the same situation.”