The Memorial Hospital: Many women survive breast cancer
If you go
What: Breast Cancer Survivor Luncheon
When: noon to 1 p.m. Oct. 17
Where: The Memorial Hospital, Conference Room, 750 Hospital Loop
Getting diagnosed with breast cancer — or any cancer — is scary. It’s hard to avoid thoughts of “what if,” especially when there is a lag between diagnostic appointments or procedures. But breast cancer is survivable for many, and getting regular checkups increases those odds tremendously.
Don’t skip your mammo because of fear
It’s easy to put off getting a mammogram. They can be uncomfortable, but they also can spark a second look — likely a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound or a biopsy — if a mass of any kind is found. Knowing that second looks usually result in a non-cancer outcome also helps.
“While it can be stressful to be called back for a diagnostic mammogram, the follow-up needed for a biopsy is usually low, and needing a biopsy doesn’t automatically mean cancer, either. Of the 22 biopsies completed in the last year, only seven came back as cancerous,” says Jackie Smith, RN, nurse navigator for Women’s Services at TMH.
The bottom line: If you get a callback for a second look, don’t panic. If you are due for a mammogram, schedule it now. TMH is offering low-cost mammograms for the month of October.
Most tumors are detected early
It’s also good to keep in mind that even if a biopsy results in a cancer diagnosis, your chances for survival likely are good, especially if you get regular checkups.
“I like to reassure my patients with this statistic: 80 percent of breast cancer diagnoses are detected in the early stages, giving these women a 97 percent five-year survival rate,” Smith said.
Early steps in the breast cancer journey
If you are diagnosed, you will begin your breast cancer journey. At TMH, we are fortunate to have a nurse navigator on staff to help you sort through decisions.
“When a woman at TMH is diagnosed, I see her shortly afterwards and share my story of breast cancer,” Smith said. “We communicate as often as she needs throughout her care journey to talk things through and for emotional support.”
Once diagnosed, early steps include meeting with a surgeon and deciding whether to have a mastectomy or lumpectomy as well as working with an oncologist on a treatment plan. Lymph nodes usually will be tested for spread, and decisions on radiation, chemotherapy, genetic testing and reconstruction will be made.
“All these treatments have side effects. Most are temporary, but some can be permanent. That’s why it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of each,” Smith said. “Treatment plans are not the same for everyone. My most important advice is to ask questions and do research before making any decisions.”
Life after breast cancer
Breast cancer can leave some people haunted and give others a new zest for life. Mixed emotions are common, as are fears of reoccurrence.
“It helps to know that 75 percent of breast cancer patients will never have a re-occurrence,” Smith said.
If you’ve had breast cancer, it’s important to recognize that even healthy people get breast cancer and that you getting breast cancer doesn’t mean you did anything wrong.
Take the same steps you always have to maintain good health. Confide in others about your feelings. Allow yourself to grieve, then get up and dust yourself off. Relish in the relationships you have with your partners, friends and family.
“You just may find strength in yourself that you never knew you had,” Smith said.
At the breast cancer survivor luncheon Oct. 17 at TMH, Smith will talk about the struggles patients face while trying to return to life as they knew it before their diagnosis as well as how being a successful survivor takes courage, humor, patience and realistic expectations.
“I will talk about how to get through it and (how to) create a good life once again,” she said.
This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered health care and service excellence.