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Breast cancer survivor: Monthly self-exam can save your life

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Breast cancer survivor: Monthly self-exam can save your life

“I hadn’t really done a monthly breast self-exam before,” says Julie Byrd, a breast cancer survivor treated at Piedmont Atlanta. “But I am aware of my body and I noticed that something wasn’t exactly symmetrical.”

Byrd went for a mammogram and learned she had stage IIIC breast cancer. She then scheduled an appointment with breast cancer surgeon William Barber to discuss her treatment options.

Dr. Barber and his staff told Byrd she could bring as many people as she wanted with her to the appointment, so she was accompanied by her mother and best girlfriend. “They said, “the more, the merrier. We love families. Whatever you need to do to be comfortable,’” says Byrd.   When she initially discussed treatment options with Dr. Barber, they decided on a mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

During surgery, Dr. Barber realized Byrd’s cancer would require more extensive treatment.

“I woke up in the recovery room and the first thing I saw was Dr. Barber’s face. He said, “it didn’t really go like we planned.’”

Dr. Barber told Byrd she would need both radiation and chemotherapy. She went through six months of chemotherapy and about 30 radiation treatments.

“It was a journey,” she says. “I know it sounds clichéd, but it was long and a little bit emotionally draining.”

Byrd pushed forward by reminding herself to take one step at a time until she was through treatment.

“After radiation, there was some time to let my body heal and then we started the reconstruction process, which was lengthy,” she says. “But it’s over and it’s behind me.”

Breast self-exams can save your life

Byrd urges women to do a monthly breast self-exam because awareness of her body is how she found the mass on her breast.

“The thought of not having done that exam and not having found that mass is kind of scary,” she explains. “It’s really important to do an exam every month and make sure that nothing is changing because you know your body and you understand what it’s supposed to feel like and what normal is. When there’s something different than that, you’re going to know better than anybody.”

Learn more about early breast cancer detection.

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