Updated: Oct 2, 2021
Did you know about 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetime?* October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and local Christi Nation, who beat a 97-day breast cancer battle on Sept. 21, has publicly shared her journey every step of the way in hopes that her success story will encourage others to take similar situations head-on.
When Nation, 54, received the news she was diagnosed with noninvasive Stage 0 — DCIS breast cancer on June 16, she was due to give introductions at her Rotary Club in 45 minutes. She took to the podium at Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club that day and shared the news to a room full of Rotarians.
"People (at rotary) would see when you get a diagnosis, you don’t have to fall apart. You can still go about life, and it lets people know about early detection," Nation said.
And early detection is what she credits a large part of her successful and short-lived journey to. But how does one achieve "early detection?"
Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms (x-rays of the breast) if they wish to do so; women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year ; women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
Nation, who would go in for a mammogram every two to three years when it crossed her mind, had scheduled one for May simply because she had been feeling tired for a few months. Because of this, she was able to detect the cancer early and achieve being cancer-free without receiving radiation or chemo. Early detection is also what permitted her to have a skin- and nipple-saving mastectomy conducted over the pectoral muscle, as well as an implant, all in one surgery.
"It could have been so much worse because if I had not had my mastectomy when I did, if I had waited another year, it could have broken through into invasive," she said. "Because there is invasive carcinoma that spreads through the ducts, and if that happens then most the time you have to get chemo with that.
"Because of the choices I made, I got to prevent radiation, and I got to prevent chemo therapy."
But early detection wasn't all that contributed to her successful journey. Nation's independent research with multiple doctors and insights taken from friends is what led her to a happy outcome.
Her first question when finding out she was diagnosed with noninvasive DCIS in her left breast was: "Can I sit and wait, or do I need to act now?" Her doctor told her to act now. This is when her research began. She spoke with multiple doctors, asked friends on Facebook and learned as much as she could about DCIS.
"The way I look at this procedure is, you know what, there’s a lot of money being spent on this, besides the health part," Nation said. "And when you go shopping for any kind of large purchase, you’re going to go shopping."
She equated the process of that to purchasing a vehicle.
"When you’re car shopping and you’ve got someone suggesting, 'oh this is the best kind of car for you,'" she said. "You know you need a vehicle, but what they recommend to you, you can go with another model, or you can go to another dealership. You know you need the car and the transportation — which I know I needed treatment, but
"I was going to go to as many people as I could to get the advice I needed to."
Nation allowed herself to make the ultimate choice about her treatment, even by changing the surgeon referral her doctor gave her initially.
"It’s up to the person to say who they want to be referred to," she said. "Even if their doctor refers someone, you don’t have to go to that person. You can say to the doctor, I would like to be referred to this other person. … A lot more of your health care is in your hands than you think it is.
"... I had the mindset of I'm interviewing these doctors to see if they're going to do my surgery. It wasn't the other way around. You know, 'Who gets the job of operating on me?'"
She was even told by doctors that 80% of patients opt for a double mastectomy just to be safe. However, she went on to receive an MRI on her right breast and lymph nodes, as well as take a BRCA*** test, before concluding for herself that wouldn't have to be the case.
"I think a lot of women out there, they're listening to their people without getting an MRI and just saying, 'OK I'm going to do a double,'" Nation said. "Now, that's their own opinion to do that, if that's what they'd rather do and only go through it once. But my risk factor for the right (breast) — she (the doctor) said my risk factor goes up like 1% every year. I'm 54 years old, so when I'm 74 years old it's going to be 20%. That risk was worth it to me."
On Sept. 21, 97 days after being diagnosed, Nation had a successful and curative single-breast mastectomy. And all along the way, from her first announcement at rotary, she has been vocal about her journey, including documenting it on her personal Facebook Page.
"I wanted to make sure to give as much education to other people as I could," she said. "I think a lot of people out there, because they haven't been in the medical arena before, they don't know what questions to ask, they don't know who to ask.
"There's hesitation on their part to ask questions because they don't know what to ask, and whatever medical professional they're dealing with is so confident that they can just go along with that, just because that's what they've been trained to do. You know, they've been conditioned by their parents, 'You do what the doctor says.'
"Yes, I do think you need to do what the doctor says, but I think you need to ask a whole lot of questions and not worry about seeming pushy or, 'Oh they're going to think I'm a problem patient.'"
Still wanting to help anyone who may have questions about their own journey, Nation encourages emails to be sent to her at Christi.Nation@HappyProductiveLife.com.
*For more breast cancer statistics, click here.
**The best time to conduct your monthly self-exam is one week after your menstrual cycle starts.
***A BRCA Test is a gene test to help determine your increased risk of breast cancer.