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Beating Breast Cancer

Breast Cancer Awareness, Cancer, Human Interest

One year after what she thought was her final breast cancer surgery, Devon Steigerwald adopted a shelter dog. She hadn’t planned to come home with a dog — she was actually there for her mom — but he wouldn’t leave her side. 

“This dog was just pawing and pawing right at my sternum. It got to the point where he would pounce on it,” the 41-year-old action sports photographer says. “I did a breast self-exam and discovered what felt like a ballpoint pen tip.” 

Her cancer was back, and her dog, Asa, found it. 

The Habit of Breast Self-Exams 

One in 8 American women will develop breast cancer, and that risk increases with age. But for women like Steigerwald, breast cancer can come at a young age without any family history or obvious risk factors. 

The Venice resident was first diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2020 after a worrying routine self-exam. She has always stayed on top of them, thanks to her philanthropic work with the nonprofit Boarding for Breast Cancer, and it possibly saved her life. For this reason, Adventist Health providers recommend that women of all ages do a monthly breast self-exam at home. 

The Strength of Screening 

There’s no denying it: Early detection of breast cancer can save lives. 

It starts with monthly breast self-exams. The goal here is to familiarize yourself with your breast tissue so you know when something changes. Contact your doctor if you notice a hard lump, swelling, pain, thickening or dimples in the skin. 

“Most breast specialists recommend annual mammography beginning at age 40,” says Dennis Holmes, MD, breast surgeon and director of the Sam and Grace Carvajal Comprehensive Breast Center at Adventist Health Glendale. “Women with a high risk of breast cancer should consider undergoing annual breast MRI in addition to mammography.” 

He also recommends that women with dense breasts have a screening ultrasound at the same time as their mammogram. 

Steigerwald’s advice for women? “Don’t live in fear, and don’t be afraid to get checked out.” 

After all, a self-exam led her to the doctor in the first place. “I’m lucky to have these doctors, but I’m lucky enough to have been educated,” she says. 

Further Reading: Conquering Breast Cancer 

World-Class Care 

Steigerwald says she found the breast cancer “dream team” in her oncologist and Dr. Holmes. 

“Every time I’ve had surgery, the person next to me has flown in from around the world because they only want him to treat them,” she says.  

“Dr. Holmes is as much an artist as he is a doctor.” 

Since her first bout with breast cancer, Steigerwald has had five surgeries. She finished treatment in April, and she’s more than ready for her next trip — whether it’s jumping out of planes or scuba diving. 

“I’ll probably find another adventure,” she says with a laugh. “I just want to be my normal self, which is usually most people’s craziest.”