As a survivor, Breast Cancer Awareness Month has a particular significance to me. When I was diagnosed in 2017 with an aggressive form of breast cancer, my world was turned upside down. After debilitating chemotherapy therapy treatments followed by a double mastectomy, I am just now beginning to reclaim normalcy.

In addition to the residual pain and unfathomable medical bills, I'm also faced with the harsh truth that much of this could have been avoided.

My breast cancer had appeared on a mammogram conducted a year earlier in Las Vegas, where I was living at the time. The doctor had noted it as "suspicious" but took no further action. The hard truth that I had cancer came only after I detected a lump during a self-examination more than a year later. When my wonderful oncologist at Touro in New Orleans spotted the cancer on my 2016 mammogram, he was appalled. I was devastated.

If the cancer had been treated when it first appeared on the mammogram, I could have been spared from poisoning my body, losing my breasts, and upending my life. I could have avoided the trauma that, as a mental health professional, I know has forever changed me.

Medical professionals should notify their patients immediately of "suspicious" results, and they should compare mammograms for abnormalities, especially if they were performed by the same provider. If these steps had been taken in my case, I could have avoided a lot of pain and hardship. Unfortunately, it's all-too-common for potentially lifesaving information and medical recommendations to not be shared with patients. I was not aware of previous diagnostic results that recommended further actions, including a surgical consult and biopsy.

Why bother with painful tests if no one shares the findings with the patient? So, while it shouldn't be this way, individuals must quarterback their own early detection, because there's a chance no one else will. Make sure your doctors are comparing all previous mammograms and demand they provide full report on the results. It could just save your life.

Valerie Leclercq

therapist

New Orleans