Call it women's intuition. Shondia McFadden-Sabari, 38, was getting ready to head out to the Dollar Tree store in December 2010 when the idea that she should have a mammogram popped into her head. The stay-at-home mother of two hadn't been feeling any discomfort nor had she detected any lumps during a breast self-examination.
"I didn't even have a feeling that there was anything wrong," she recalled in an interview with BET.com.
Luckily, McFadden-Sabari, who lives in suburban Atlanta, already had an OB/GYN appointment scheduled for the next day and shared the experience with her physician, who also didn't find anything when she examined her breasts. The doctor normally didn't recommend mammograms before age 40 and asked if she was sure she wanted the exam. She was sure.
She was also right.
The next week, McFadden-Sabari received a letter stating that calcifications and changes in tissue had been found.
"I had no idea what any of that meant," recalled McFadden-Sabari, who learned during a diagnostic mammogram that she'd also have to have her breasts biopsied.
"That was the only time during the whole experience that I kind of felt like something wasn't right. When I got the letter I was concerned, but tried to not think negatively," she said. "I was hoping for the best and trying to not think of the worst."
The breast cancer diagnosis came right after Christmas. McFadden-Sabari, her husband and two children were spending the holidays with relatives in South Carolina. She was sitting in bed when the nurse called to deliver the bad news.
"I thought, 'Wow! Cancer!'" she said. "I wasn't scared right away. For a moment, I felt like it must be a joke; they'd made a mistake. But when she started explaining everything to me, that's when it kicked in."
The cancer was in her left breast and was stage 0 DCIS, or ductal carcinoma, which starts in the ducts that move milk from breast to nipple. It was also in her right breast as LCIS, lobular carcinoma, which starts in the milk-producing glands at the end of breast ducts, at stage 0 in one area and stage 1A in another.
After sharing the news with her husband, they told their children together. And after three days of crying together and conducting some serious research, McFadden-Sabari stopped feeling like she would die and was ready to start the journey to wellness.
After getting a couple of second opinions, McFadden-Sabari chose her doctor and discussed options. The left breast would have to be removed and she could have reconstructive surgery right away. McFadden-Sabari ultimately made the radical decision to have both removed. In addition, she nixed the idea of reconstructive surgery, which would have prolonged the healing process.
"I wanted to do whatever I had to do to keep me alive. Although lots of women go through reconstructive surgery and the outcome is great, a lot of times it's not," she said.
The surgery went extremely well. Although the recovery process normally takes four weeks, McFadden-Sabari decided that she would give herself eight weeks at home to heal, focus on what she'd just experienced and collect her thoughts, going only for medical appointments.
"I didn't have any pain and didn't have to take any pain medicine at all," she said. "And I didn't have to do any chemotherapy or radiation. That's why early detection is best."
McFadden-Sabari also believes that she was meant to "experience" breast cancer and that it has made her a better person who now has a more meaningful relationship with God. She now works to motivate others to get mammograms and take care of themselves.
"Having cancer for me was not a bad experience. It didn't take my self-esteem. It didn't take my life. It made me a better person," she said.
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