Television anchor Ali Meyer thought she was just performing a public service to remind women over 40 to get a mammogram when she decided to broadcast her screening test on Facebook Live last year.
Six days later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“To say I was shocked does not begin to cut it,” Meyer told TODAY.
Meyer, 41, a long-time anchor with NBC affiliate KFOR in Oklahoma City, was diagnosed with Stage 0 non-invasive ductal breast cancer. Nearly all women diagnosed with this early stage of cancer can be “cured,” according to the American Cancer Society.
Given Meyer’s younger age, her lack of a family history of breast cancer, her healthy lifestyle, and the fact that she didn’t find a lump on her breast, the diagnosis was stunning to her.
A lot of women said they had the same thing (DCIS), but they didn’t tell co-workers or family because they thought so many women have it worse.
Only about 11% of all new cases of breast cancer are found in women under age 45, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Doctors do not recommend mammograms for patients under 40 unless they have an immediate family member with a history of breast cancer. Women under 40 can help minimize their risk of breast cancer through genetic testing, annual breast exams, an active lifestyle and avoidance of alcohol.
Meyer thought she had checked all those boxes, which made her diagnosis so surprising.
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“I was angry,” she said. “What’s the point of living right and living healthy and clean eating and never smoking a cigarette, if you end up with something like this?
“At 40, I had worked hard to be a healthy person and gotten through all the body-image hating stuff, and I loved my body and felt comfortable with who I was, so you just think, ‘What a terrible time to be hit with something like this in your life.”
The mother of four figured she would just have a lumpectomy where the tumor and any surrounding tissue would be surgically removed and the rest of her breast left intact. It didn’t turn out to be that simple.
Meyer’s breast cancer journey, which she shared in a first-person story for KFOR, included having a mastectomy on her right breast so that doctors could make sure they removed all the cancer.
“I went to doctor after doctor to find someone who would tell me I shouldn’t have a mastectomy,” she said. “You’re telling me I have the very best cancer to have, Stage 0, non-invasive, but I have to cut off my entire breast? It was difficult for me to understand.”
Meyer learned that factors like the area of the cancer, the size of the breast, the size of your body, your age and genetic history can all factor into the decision to have a mastectomy.
“Even though surgery was my choice, it felt like forced mutilation,” she wrote in her essay. “It felt like cancer was stealing part of my body away from me.”
The one good bit of news was that a blood test revealed she does not have any genetic mutations for breast cancer, calming her fears of having passed it on to her daughters.
Doctors also reassured her that the image she had in her mind of a mastectomy was not the reality in her particular case.
“I realized it was the best choice,” she said. “They told me, ‘You can have immediate implant reconstruction, and you can keep your skin and your nipple.’ Having no family history and having never looked into it in detail, I didn’t know what the options were.
“I know now that had it gone a little further, had I waited another five years, those options may not have been open.”
Meyer has received an outpouring of support since publicly sharing her journey after that first screening on Facebook Live in October of last year.
“A lot of women said they had the same thing (DCIS), but they didn’t tell co-workers or family because they thought so many women have it worse,” she said. “It’s almost like survivor’s guilt. I’ve had a little bit of that, too.
“Everyone has their own journey. You are going to walk your own path, and there’s all kinds of flavors of this disease, so you do the best with what you got.”
Meyer just had a mammogram on Oct. 9 and received the good news that there was no breast cancer found.
“I was more emotional than I thought I’d be,” she said. “I’d had the mastectomy on that one side, so you’re not supposed to be nervous, but I still was.
“The left tissue is still completely intact, so I was nervous they’d find something on that side, too. It’s this low-level anxiety that I’ll have for the rest of my life thinking, ‘When is it coming back? Is it coming back?”’
If Meyer hadn’t been urged by the marketing director at Stephenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma City to have her screening on Facebook Live, she says she probably would’ve waited another three to five years to have a mammogram. During that time, her cancer could have spread or worsened.
“I hope women take away from my story to do it now,” she said about getting a mammogram. “That way either you know you’re safe, or if you catch (the cancer) early, that’s a huge benefit.”