Pingleton has a long family history of breast cancer. Her grandmother and at least five of her great-aunts all have been diagnosed with breast cancer. For this reason, she, her sisters and her cousins always have been “on high alert for that type of thing,” she said.
“After my grandmother, I was the first one in my family (to be diagnosed),” Pingleton said.
Last year, Pingleton felt a lump in her breast. On Aug. 1, 2011, Pingleton was told by her doctor that the lump was cancer.
“It did not feel, to me, like a lump. I keep telling people that, because in my head it would be a lump, like a circular type of thing, but it was flat and hard,” Pingleton said.
In April 2011, she went in for a mammogram, after feeling what she later learned was a tumor. At the time, doctors found nothing, and Pingleton went for months feeling relief.
Finally, in July, the place had become a nuisance, making it difficult for her to lay on her side without feeling pain. Pingleton decided to contact her doctor again to see what was causing the pain and to find out if it could be removed.
On this visit, her doctor was concerned by how much the lump was bothering Pingleton. She was referred to a surgeon, who was able to do a more thorough series of mammograms, including an ultrasound.
“They had a hard time finding it. Nobody was feeling it the way I was feeling it,” Pingleton said.
When they completed the ultrasound, they saw it, hiding underneath other tissue.
According to the American Cancer Society, the problem of a tumor hiding is mostly likely to occur in younger women. However, “since most breast cancers occur in older women, this is usually not a problem,” Pingleton said.
Doctors performed a biopsy on a Friday. The following Monday, Pingleton, who was a third-grade teacher at Toliver Elementary, was preparing for that night’s “back to school” event.
“That Monday, the nurse called me. It was Aug. 1. She called me and told me it was positive that it was cancer,” Pingleton said. The cancer she had was two types: ductal carcinoma in situ and invasive ductal.
A ductal carcinoma in situ is considered the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Sociey, these cancer cells are found in ducts and have not yet spread through the walls of the ducts into the surrounding tissue.
Pingleton also was identified as having an invasive ductal carcinoma, which is another one of the most common types of breast cancer. This type starts in the ducts, breaks through the wall of the ducts, and grows into the fatty tissue of the breast. It can then spread to other parts of the body, using the bloodstream and the lymph nodes.
“I didn’t know what to do with it,” she said.
When Pingleton’s friends found out, many of them came gathered around her. “They just sort of sat with me and let me freak out. And I think I needed that.”
The time following the diagnosis can best be described as “kind of a whirlwind,” Pingleton said.
She initially had expected she would be able to teach that fall, so she attended the open house and met all of the children. It wasn’t until she returned to the doctor that she discovered it wasn’t going to be a possibility.
“They kind of set up a plan and they were just very matter-of-fact, stage 3b, in situ and invasive. He just, right off the bat, recommended double mastectomy,” Pingleton said.