Doctor Who Survived Breast Cancer Shares the Self-Check Technique That Led to Her Diagnosis
After a routine mammogram and ultrasound missed a mass growing in her right breast, a family physician noticed the lump herself during self-examination and caught the fast-growing cancer early. After a successful double mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery, she is now sharing the simple self-check routine with other women in hopes of empowering them to know their bodies better.
Dr. Robin Hall, 63, is a board-certified family physician from Fort Worth, Texas, with over 32 years of experience.
‘I Feel Blessed’
Hall was always monitored closely, being at higher risk for breast cancer than others because of her dense breast tissue and having atypical hyperplasia in her breast at the age of 38.
In January 2021, Hall had a normal mammogram and ultrasound but seven months later, in July, she noticed an abnormality in her right breast.
“I got out of the shower one morning and was drying off,” she told The Epoch Times. “The mirror is there, across the room, and I went, ‘Oh my goodness, it looks like my right breast is larger.’ By August it was very noticeable and that’s when I felt the mass. I went back and had another mammogram. It still didn’t show it, but the ultrasound did.”
Hall explained that dense breast tissue shows up white instead of dark gray on a mammogram, but a tumor also shows up white and so is hard to detect.
The mass looked to be just under half an inch in diameter.
“The radiologist that has been following me for years didn’t think the mass looked worrisome,” Hall said. “[But] she said, ‘Because you’ve had this change in such a short period of time, I think we should biopsy it,’ so I feel very blessed about that … she called me the next day and said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, but it is cancer.’”
Although over the last 30 years, Hall has gotten used to giving bad news to others, she said, “Nothing prepares you to get the bad news yourself.”
“Cancer is the C word and that was very scary because obviously, I didn’t know how far along it was,” Hall said.
Her daughter’s reaction to her diagnosis was, “Is Mom going to die?”
As a mother, Hall admits that it was really hard for her to hear that from her child.
“There were days that I would break down and cry,” Hall said, “then there were other days where I thought, ‘Okay, I can get through this. I’ve got a lot of support, my faith is strong, God’s going to get me through this.’”
As a doctor, she also immediately went into problem-solving mode and was concerned about what the diagnosis would mean for her concierge practice—Destination Health—in Southlake, Texas.
Three different doctors recommended that Hall have a double mastectomy. Despite fearing a loss of femininity, Hall was determined to survive. She had the surgery on Sept. 17, 2021, deferring her concierge practice to her nurse practitioner and a fellow doctor during her three-month recovery.
After her mastectomy, Hall’s doctors found that the cancer had not invaded her lymph nodes and she would not need chemotherapy.
“[This] was a miracle in and of itself,” Hall said, “because when they actually examined all the breast tissue, the cancer was over four centimeters in size. … There was only one millimeter of a margin between the cancer and my skin, so I was very, very fortunate.”
Hall’s close friend, who had been through a mastectomy herself, supported her through the physical and emotional pain of recovery. Eight weeks later, Hall had reconstruction surgery and is now on oral medicine.
“I’m happy that she told me she said don’t even expect to feel better for a year,” Hall said. “I was kind of surprised by that, I thought that if I had to have chemotherapy, that would have been the situation, but just that surgery and reconstruction, anesthesia and, you know, being abruptly taken off my hormones, it took me a full year to start feeling like myself again.”
Eighteen months on, Hall is more fatigued than before she had cancer but has shifted focus to self-care. She writes in a gratitude journal every morning, maintains a website, and is penning a book—”The Other Side of Illness: Unexpected Blessings”—on the positives for all those who have survived major health adversities.
“Many times, there’s something positive that happens after you’ve gone through something like this that would not have happened had you not,” Hall said. “In my case, I think the cancer was a catalyst for me to go ahead and retire early. … You just don’t know what tomorrow is going to look like.”
In April 2022, Hall sold her practice to a colleague in order to travel and enjoy retirement with her husband, who successfully battled with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“[W]hile my husband and I are doing fine, we wanted to stop and smell the roses,” Hall said.
Additionally, Hall has been focused on helping other women, knowing that many fail to perform regular self-examinations.
She advocates for a self-check while looking in the mirror once a month, paying close attention to changes in breast size—usually outward-facing nipples turning in, “inverting,” dimpled skin, or masses that may feel like a frozen pea.
Using the opposite hand to each breast, Hall recommends feeling from the armpit all the way around the breast tissue in a circular motion, then pressing on the skin all the way down to the chest wall to check for both shallow and deeper masses.
Hall said: “A woman should look at themselves in the mirror from the front, and also turn to the side so that they’re looking at each side. I [also] recommend that they put both hands on their hips and push in, and what that does is contract those chest muscles. And it’s easier to see if there is a change if something is, you know, in the skin is retracting.”
Additionally, Hall said that lifting both arms over the head helps the breasts move up on the chest wall. However, if one remains stuck and the other one moves up, it indicates an abnormality.
Hall recalls that when she had patients in the office, she would check them while sitting and have them lie down to check again.
Hall has noticed that the biggest misconception she’s seen from women over the years is that they believe they’re not at risk for breast cancer because they have no family history of the disease.
“In fact, 85 percent of breast cancer is sporadic, meaning that it’s not a genetic thing,” she said. “Only 15 percent is due to … the BRCA gene.”
The two big risk factors for breast cancer, she said, are being a woman and aging. Others include never having given birth, alcohol consumption, a waist circumference over 35 inches, starting the menstrual cycle before age 13, and menopause over the age of 51.
Today, Hall believes it was part of her mission in life to share her story.
“My mission has been to help keep people healthy and to try to encourage them, and perhaps me going through this was my mission to inspire them because mindset is everything,” she said.
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