Life sure knows how to throw us curve balls — and I happen to be writing this as I recover from a major one.

I didn’t expect to have to share this update, but here goes nothing: I recently had a preventative mastectomy. After receiving a diagnosis that left me with few options of ensuring I had a healthy future, I made a big and crucial decision I think will allow me the best chance to watch my kids grow up. Armed with all the critical details and facts my helpful doctors provided, I’m grateful I had the power to protect myself.

I’m going to share my breast cancer journey with you as it unfolds. Besides how essential it is to share our diverse stories regarding health, I also want to spread the importance of testing and screenings.

Because without getting them regularly, I never would’ve known how to save my own life.

Discovering the Facts

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t skip so much as a teeth cleaning, let alone my annual mammogram. Perhaps it’s because I’m a physician, but I’d like to think it’s more so my deep understanding of the importance of being ‘in the know’ with health.

Even during the onset of COVID-19’s chaos, I managed to get my mammogram. Because it was regular last year, I fully anticipated another standard procedure with equally standard results this year.

But that wasn’t the case.

Before I had my mammogram earlier this year in March, I didn’t notice any lumps or bumps in my breasts that required my attention. Despite being regular with screenings and lump-free, my mammogram identified an area of concern.

It was recommended that we further explore the abnormalities, which meant a lot more testing:

  • Imaging – Through imaging processes like ultrasonography (or mammography with additional images!), radiologists can diagnose areas of concern or breast cancer and guide further evaluation to determine the stage and extent of the disease. I had additional imaging after my initial screening mammogram.
  • Biopsy – This is when doctors remove a small piece of your breast tissue and check it in a lab. Sometimes, this happens through surgery or a special biopsy needle. I had a biopsy of the area of concern to further identify what exactly was going on.
  • Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – Another kind of breast imaging, radiologists use MRIs to look specifically at the breast from different angles, usually trying to spot lesions mammograms or ultrasounds didn’t pick up.
  • Lumpectomy – My final step was a lumpectomy, which is the surgical removal of worrisome or cancerous breast tissue plus some of the normal tissue surrounding it to preserve the rest of your breast.
    After my lumpectomy in June, it became very clear that I had some huge life-altering options to consider.

After my lumpectomy in June, it became very clear that I had some huge life-altering options to consider.

Knowledge Is Power (and How Screenings Help)

The reason we get any screening exam, whether it’s a pap or STD test, is because we don’t always know what’s developing in our bodies. Regular screenings can identify abnormalities or detect diseases in the early stages.

With the pathology results (data from the examination of my tissue sample) back from my lumpectomy, my doctors realized my diagnosis was more severe than they originally thought. 

Based on medical algorithms that assessed my risk level, I learned I had a 53 to 68% chance of getting breast cancer within the next 10 to 20 years — while the average lifetime risk for an American female to develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime is 12.9%.

At that moment, the question became, “How do I see the rest of my life playing out?” I had to decide if I wanted to live with this risk, what I could do to reduce it, how much I could reduce it, and which path I wanted to take. 

Although these are very individual decisions, I didn’t have to do that hard work on my own. 

To figure out the best way to navigate my breast cancer prognosis, I collaborated with my care team of experts:

With their help and guidance from my family, all the right pieces came together to help me make the best choice for my life.  On September 14, I followed through with my decision to have a preventative double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

Did I have another option? Yes. I could’ve opted to take a medicine that would’ve reduced my risk in half — but that wasn’t enough for me. It was important to me that my treatment plan was as curative as possible. 

After Angelina Jolie famously got a prophylactic double mastectomy in 2013, many women felt inspired to undergo genetic screening and became aware of the concept of preventative mastectomy and reconstruction. 

However, a mastectomy, whether single or double, isn’t the right path for everyone. There are many factors to weigh, plus other options to consider. But to learn your next steps after a diagnosis and decide the best treatment, you have to start by getting screened. 

If I hadn’t gotten my annual mammogram this year, it’s possible that I could have ended up with invasive breast cancer. Even though what I’m experiencing is incredibly tough in a multitude of ways, I’m grateful I got way ahead of something potentially fatal.

🔑 Remember: Knowledge is power. Regular screenings give you the information you need to control and drive your own destiny.

The More You Know: Breast Cancer Awareness

I’m expecting to be in recovery for the next four to eight weeks. Besides using that time to heal and rebuild strength, I also want to share my journey with you all.

Between now and the end of October, I’ll publish blogs about how to navigate a breast cancer diagnosis and the kinds of options you have with breast reconstruction. I’ll also talk about the importance of screening mammograms and how you can access them this year if you’re uninsured, as well as what those of us lucky enough with access to care and insurance can do for those who aren’t.

During COVID, there was a sharp drop in breast cancer screening mammograms, largely among women of color and those who live in rural areas. U.S. News reports that the number of completed screenings fell by almost half, going from almost 56,000 in 2019 to around 27,500 in 2020.

If I can help bring that number back up even a little bit, I plan to raise all the awareness I can.

Until next time.

Meet Dr. Savita Ginde

Dr. Savita Ginde is an advocate and thought leader for reproductive health and served as Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains for over 13 years. And, until very recently, she served as the Chief Healthcare Officer for STRIDE Community Health Center where she oversaw all of STRIDE’s healthcare services and led their COVID-19 vaccination efforts.