Ellyn Davidson was busy. The Huntington Woods mother of three was making sure everything ran smoothly for her daughter Lacey (then 7) and sons Brett (5) and Seth (8 months old), while also working in advertising. Every day was a whirlwind of activity managing everyone’s needs –with her own needs often falling to the bottom of the list.
Then an interesting project crossed her desk at work: a television spot for a local hospital to promote their breast cancer center. “One of my colleagues said, ‘You have to watch this, it’s really great,’ ” Ellyn recalls.
The ad featured a woman who had found a lump in her breast while showering. “The woman had young children,” Ellyn says. “That really struck me. She was young, like me.”
Ellyn, age 36 at the time, had no known family history of breast cancer. Still, that evening she decided to do a self-exam, something she hardly ever did. And she found a lump.
Although she didn’t consider herself at risk, she called her doctor – just in case. “I actually felt silly calling,” she admits, but her doctor wanted to see her. He ordered a mammogram that revealed nothing, and an ultrasound that was inconclusive. So, busy as ever, Ellyn forgot all about it.
But her doctor didn’t. The lump was still there several months later, so he sent her to a surgeon who performed a biopsy. “I was still completely calm,” Ellyn recalls. “I thought, ‘No way is this anything!’” When her doctor phoned her around 9:30 p.m. several days later, she was a little surprised. “I thought that was an odd time to call.”
The news wasn’t good. Ellyn had cancer – and it turned out to be fairly aggressive. This diagnosis set in motion a chain of events that would give Ellyn a new sense of the word “busy.” It culminated in a bilateral mastectomy and months of chemotherapy. She also had genetic testing that showed she was a carrier of the BRCA II mutation, a genetic defect that put her at a high risk of developing breast cancer at an early age.
Thanks to that random self-exam eight years ago, Ellyn is cancer-free today and has become an active advocate. She started an outreach program in metro Detroit through FORCE
(Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered), where she’s now a board member. She helped raise more than $700,000 for Susan G. Komen 3-Day®
Ellyn urges every woman, regardless of her age, family or medical history, to check her breasts regularly – even if she thinks she’s too young to get cancer.
“The perception is that age 40 is the magic point for breast cancer. But there is no magic number,” she says. “My story isn’t much different than many other women’s.”
Breast cancer myths
Before her diagnosis, Ellyn (like many women) had a common misconception that breast cancer is rare before age 40. In fact, one in 288 women in her 30s gets breast cancer. Other myths:
Myth: All lumps are cancer.
Fact: The majority of breast lumps are not cancer. But if you discover something new, or a lump changes or grows, see your doctor.
Myth: There’s always a lump.
Fact: Breast cancer can show up as a dimple, redness and swelling or nipple discharge. Bottom line: If there are changes to the breast, have it checked out by a medical professional.
Myth: Only women get breast cancer.
Fact: Men have breasts, too. And they can develop breast cancer. While the risk is low, anyone with a lump or an irregularity should see a doctor.
Myth: If breast cancer is in your family, you’ll get it.
Fact: Most women with breast cancer – about 70 to 80 percent – do not appear to have a family history of the disease. Women with the BRCA mutation do have a higher risk, but there is no certainty.
Myth: Every person with breast cancer has an identifiable risk factor.
Fact: The majority of breast cancer cases can’t be traced to any known risk factor, while many people with risk factors never develop cancer. This means everyone needs to be vigilant: Practice self-exams, and visit your doctor regularly.
Having counseled women for several years, Ellyn has listened to many personal stories – and she’s had the same basic message for every one.
“The biggest challenge for women is we’re used to doing it all,” she says. “We’re all busy. But breast cancer has no respect for busy schedules. And it doesn’t always arrive when we think it will. Every woman, regardless of her age, must take the risk of cancer seriously.”
Make an appointment with your doctor today, or visit HAP Breast Cancer Information.
National Breast Cancer Foundation
American Cancer Society