“It was an out of body experience,” says Tralicia Powell-Lewis, speaking about the moment she received the call confirming her breast cancer diagnosis. “My doctor told me I had breast cancer, but cancer with a little ‘c,’ not a big ‘c.’”
Cancer with a little ‘c’ meant the cancer was caught early, and patients with early stage breast cancer tend to have the best outcomes. For the last four years, Lewis scheduled yearly mammograms, and this was the first time she received abnormal results.
Within two weeks of receiving the call, she met with Dr. Samilia Obeng-Gyasi, breast surgeon at Indiana University Health West Hospital, to talk about next steps and treatment options.
“Dr. Obeng-Gyasi really made me feel in control of my health,” Lewis says. “I was so overwhelmed by the initial diagnosis that I didn’t even prepare questions, but she walked me through everything I could ever want to know. She drew pictures of what was happening in my body to help me visualize.”
The process moved quickly, and just two months later, Lewis underwent a successful double mastectomy. She’s now in the reconstructive stage and feeling stronger and more comfortable every day.
Lewis recognizes that her case is a lucky one.
“Scheduling a yearly mammogram saved me,” she says. “Early stage breast cancer is very treatable, but I’m not sure what would have happened if the cancer had been caught later.”
Patients with early stage cancers tend to have the best outcomes, and the best way to catch it early is by scheduling annual screenings, such as a mammogram. It’s recommended for women to begin yearly mammograms at age 40, or sometimes earlier if there’s a family history of breast cancer.
“Knowing your family’s history with cancer helps your care team determine your risk and act accordingly,” Dr. Obeng-Gyasi says. “A person can be at risk for breast cancer for many reasons, including simply for being a woman and getting older. Whether you think you’re at risk or not, it’s important to schedule yearly mammograms.”
Other warning signs include nipple discharge, a lump in the breast, skin changes on the breast or a lump in the armpit area. It’s important to talk with your doctor if you experience these signs, or notice any other unusual changes to the breast or chest area.
A cancer diagnosis was one of Lewis’ biggest challenges yet, but it also brought a new perspective that carries into her personal and professional life. She recognizes the importance of focusing on what really matters.
“It’s easy to get stuck in the chaos of a new cancer diagnosis, but I quickly learned I needed to adapt,” Lewis says. “Cancer doesn’t mean my life is over, it just means I have to create a new sense of normal. Hopefully along the way, I can be an encouragement to other women and men about the importance of yearly cancer screenings.”