Mammogram leads to early detection, survival from breast cancer
LIMA, Ohio -As the single mother of a 12-year-old daughter, Jennifer Cook, an electrician at Lima Engine Plant, has always taken her health seriously. When she turned 40, she started scheduling yearly mammograms and for the first few years, it was always the same result – everything’s fine and we’ll see you next year.
Then she got “the call.”
It’s the call every woman dreads – the call that more than 300,000 women get each year in America. It was from her doctor, saying something didn’t look right in that last mammogram, and she needed to come in for more testing.
Her worst fears were confirmed when a MRI revealed Cook had breast cancer. “When they told me I had some tumors, I looked at them like they were crazy,” Cook said, adding that doctors had informed her she had two small lumps that were diagnosed as cancerous. “They were so small I couldn’t feel them, or see them.”
Her survival of a disease that claims the lives of approximately 40,000 women each year is due, in large part, to her strong faith and early detection of the disease. Her annual mammogram alerted doctors early enough that Cook had a positive prognosis – and a fighting chance to survive. “That mammogram saved my life,” Cook said. “If I wouldn’t have gotten it, the cancer would have just continued to grow. The doctors kept telling me it was the best time I could have caught it because the tumors were so small.”
Regardless, Cook admits she was devastated with the diagnosis, and was even more devastated to hear the news that her mother had also been diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time. “We actually had appointments the same day, and neither of us knew we both had breast cancer. As a matter of fact, my family thought that maybe something was wrong with the machine. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the machine.”
While her mother was diagnosed with a more aggressive form of breast cancer that required a double mastectomy, Cook’s early detection provided her more options. The two spots on Cook’s breast were close enough together that doctors could remove the cancerous tissue with a lumpectomy.
Cook underwent surgery a short time later, and after healing from that surgery, she began a course of 33 radiation treatments. “Even with everything, I didn’t have to go through nearly as much as other women have,” Cook said, adding that early detection also allowed her to avoid chemotherapy, and its debilitating side effects.
Putting on a brave face and determined to live her life uninterrupted, Cook was only off work for two weeks after her surgery. She returned to work and continued working while receiving radiation treatments five days a week.
For Cook, it wasn’t a matter of choice. “I didn’t have a choice really. I’m a single parent, and I need to provide for my family, so I just did it,” she said adding that the constant movement from work-related activities caused her incision to seep and her body to become sore and fatigued.
Despite the difficulties, she was determined to continue her normal day-to-day routine. “I was working night shift then, and it was a bit much,” she said, adding “I guess I didn’t realize how tired it would make me.”
Cook persevered, and over two years after her initial diagnosis, she feels extremely relieved to have had a successful outcome. “I am totally cancer free and everything is looking good,” she said, adding that her oncologist recently advised her to return to yearly mammograms after getting them every six months.
Her experience has led Cook to be a strong and outspoken proponent for mammograms and she encourages all women to schedule an appointment with their physician. “The year before my diagnosis, everything was good. But in just one short year, I had breast cancer and had no symptoms whatsoever. I never would have known without that mammogram,” Cook said.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and above get a yearly mammogram, in addition to conducting routine self-exams. During a mammogram, technicians will compress the breast in order to get a clear picture of the breast tissue. While this might prove a bit uncomfortable, Cook said it is far better than the alternative. “There’s really nothing to be afraid of. It doesn’t hurt much at all, and it shouldn’t be embarrassing. Honestly, it’s a lifesaver,” she added.
Today, there are approximately 2.8 million breast cancer survivors living in the United States. Cook feels extremely blessed to be one of them. “I look at it like this…wouldn’t you want to find out at an early stage and go through the minimal amount you have to rather than hear that you waited too long and there’s nothing you can do?” From someone who has been through it, please take my advice and get a mammogram."
For more information on mammograms, visit the American Cancer Society website at www.cancer.org