WATCH: Breast cancer can strike without family history



Bio | Email | Follow: @TerriG_KVUE

Posted on May 18, 2009 at 9:55 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 21 at 1:20 PM


KVUE's Terri Gruca reports

Related links:
Search Video:
> > >

One in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. I never imagined my mom, Hedy, would be one of those women because breast cancer does not run in my family.

So Hedy Gruca decided to share her story in hopes that it might help other women.

Hedy's story

Growing up my mom seemed to have the recipe for everything. We'd spend hours in the kitchen cooking up dinner and, my favorite, dessert.

But a few months ago, baking became the least of our priorities.

"I felt something and I thought, 'That can't be, you know. It's just my imagination,'" said Hedy Gruca, my mom.

While doing her monthly self breast exam, mom found a lump. Not one to take chances, Mom went to her doctor, but her doctor couldn't feel anything.

"So she suggested I get another mammogram and that maybe they would do an ultrasound just to see if anything showed up," said Mom. "Nothing showed up on either one. So she told me to wait another year for my next physical."

Mom waited and worried.

"In the back of my head I was thinking it shouldn't be there because it didn't feel like my other side," she said.

A year later she went back to the doctor which again insisted she wait another year.

Don't take no for an answer

"I didn't feel comfortable with that decision," said Mom.

For good reason, it turns out of breast cancer in women over 50.

On the advice of a friend, Mom visited a surgeon. Lucky for all of us, he suggested a biopsy.

Mom remembers the day the surgeon delivered the news.

"He said that they had found a small area of breast cancer. I was thinking this can't really be happening to me it just seemed very surreal," she said.

The diagnosis came as quite a shock to all of us, not just because it was my mom, but because we have no history of breast cancer. Yet some studies show as many with breast cancer have no family history.

"I cried. I was scared," recalled Mom. "It's a scary thing."

"You feel helpless," said John Gruca, my dad.

My parents were high school sweethearts. They've been married 44 years and have five grown kids, four grandkids. They were enjoying retirement and in an instant facing the fight of their lives.

"She's been my life partner. Just knowing that has helped me and I'm there for her," said Dad. "She needs to know that we'll do whatever we have to do."

The choice

Doctors gave mom three choices.

"He said you can have a mastectomy, a radical mastectomy with reconstructive surgery or you can have a lumpectomy," she said. "I thought wow, what three choices."

Mom agonized over the decision for weeks and eventually opted for the lumpectomy.

"I thought I could wait and try the lesser route first and then if that didn't work I would go to the extreme," she said.

In the weeks that followed mom also needed six weeks' worth of radiation.

"When you're lying on that table for the first time and you're five feet off the floor, it's scary. You're thinking I know I'm going to have this radiation beam therapy, but you don't know what to expect," said Mom. "I didn't feel anything, you just hear this noise and of course everybody leaves the room so you are alone with your thoughts and you pray. You just pray."

Prayers Answered

Her prayers and all of our prayers were answered. The cancer had not spread and the treatments appear to have worked.

"I probably have the best scenario possible because it was such a minute piece of cancer that they found and since there was no lymph node invasion. This hopefully should take care of it," she said. "It looks good."

Doctors believe mom's cancer was caught early. Mom's recipe for good health may be the best recipe she can pass along.

"The best thing is to be your own health advocate, if something doesn't feel right, pursue it, don't wait. Don't take no for an answer," she said. "I think I did everything right and that's the scary part, I thought I did everything right."

Why Mom shared her story

My mom is now a three month breast cancer survivor. She wanted to share her story because doing a self breast exam is not something that's pushed very much any more. Yet, studies show as many as seven of 10 breast cancer cases are found through self breast exams, like the one my Mom did on herself.

The federal government put together to doing a breast self exam.

You can also find more information on the site.