By Kathy Hubbard
Our stories today have happy endings, all because these incredible women listened to their bodies, their healthcare professionals and had regular mammograms. Read on.
Sue Johnson is 62 years old with two grown daughters. There is a history of cancer on her dad’s side including an aunt who died of breast cancer. Johnson worked at Sandpoint Women’s Health for 18 years before moving over to Medical Records at Bonner General Health several years ago.
“I started having mammograms when I was 40. It was drilled into my head that they were important,” Johnson said. “I had a hysterectomy in 2003 because I had fibroids. I went off HRT (hormone replacement therapy) because it caused lumps that, although, benign were uncomfortable.”
In February Johnson began to experience a bloody discharge from her nipple. At first, doctors thought it was again benign and nothing to worry about. On March 4 they performed surgery and diagnosed ductal carcinoma in situ.
This is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. Breastcancer.org. explains, “Ductal means that the cancer starts inside the milk ducts, carcinoma refers to any cancer that begins in the skin or other tissues (including breast tissue) that cover or line the internal organs, and in situ means ‘in its original place.’”
DCIS generally has no signs or symptoms. Johnson’s was caught early and now with the exception of the hot flashes side effect of the Tamoxifen she’ll be taking for a few years feels fine.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Johnson said. “I almost feel guilty. No chemo, no radiation, no mastectomy. I had quick access to good doctors. My advice to others is to be aware. Look for signs. Pay attention. And, have your regular mammograms.”
The National Cancer Institute says that about 80 percent of DCIS cases are found by mammography. Had Johnson not had symptoms, it’s a very good chance that her annual mammogram would have detected the lump.
Meet Mary Faux. She is 86 and more active than a woman who’s just had knee replacement surgery should be. She was 60 and recovering from uterine cancer when her internist, having seen something suspicious on her mammogram, started urging her to see the surgeon.
“In June I had a hysterectomy, in September I had a modified radical mastectomy,” Faux said. “That mammogram saved my life.”
A modified radical mastectomy, according to Mayo Clinic, “removes the entire breast, including the breast tissue, skin, areola and nipple, and most of the underarm lymph nodes.”
“My recovery was very speedy,” Faux said, “I was told to take six weeks off my job teaching Weight Watchers and was back to work in four.”
At the time, Faux’s youngest daughter (she has five plus a son) was 27 years old and pregnant. The doctor warned that one of the girls would most likely develop breast cancer.
“It wasn’t going to be me,” said Laura (aka LuLu) Donnelly. But she got the short straw. The irony is that Donnelly is a Mammographer and X-ray Technologist at BGH.
“Early detection is what saved me and my mom,” Donnelly said. “I thought I was doing everything right. I had my kids before I was 30, I breastfed them. I started getting mammograms when I was 35. But, I wasn’t living the healthiest lifestyle. I was 40 pounds overweight and eating all the wrong foods.”
Donnelly had a bilateral mastectomy (that means both breasts) and went through five months of chemo therapy. Her daughter, Lea Black tells a great story about her, Faux, her aunt and nephew shaving their heads in solidarity.
“Cancer woke me up to health. It was an awakening, a new lease on life. Think about it, a mammogram is just five minutes out of your life for the whole year. My co-workers saved my life!
“Life changes after cancer. I have lots and lots to be thankful for. Early detection has allowed me the life to see my grandchild,” Donnelly said while bouncing her 9-month old grandson on her lap.
Not to be outdone, Faux added, “Early detection allowed me to see my 20th great-grandchild!
Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.