As a registered nurse for Fairview Southdale Hospital, Joan is aware of the importance of mammograms—from the age 35, she’s scheduled an annual screening without fail. In 2008, her vigilance may have saved her life. During her regular mammogram visit, the technician decided to take a second picture of her left side just to make sure everything looked good. Within a week, Joan received a letter instructing her to go for another round of imagery and an ultrasound—a mass had been detected in the preliminary screening. Initially, Joan’s doctor thought it was likely fibrocystic, but a biopsy showed otherwise.A few days later, Joan received a call from her doctor that changed everything. “I could just tell from the tone of her voice that something was wrong,” she remembers. The doctor explained that the mass was cancerous, stage 1.
Although she was upset, Joan knew her appointment the next day with Kaye Baum, FNP, would bring some clarity regarding what next steps would entail—and it did. She met with cancer surgeon Deborah Nowak, MD, who discussed three options with her: a lumpectomy, mastectomy or double mastectomy. “She thought I’d be a good candidate for a lumpectomy, but she let me choose,” says Joan.
Because she had stage 1 cancer, but no family history of breast cancer, Joan took the advice of Dr. Nowak and chose a lumpectomy. To determine if chemotherapy was necessary, Dr. Nowak sent in a tissue sample. Because the results were “in the gray area,” Joan underwent four rounds of chemo followed by radiation to strengthen her chances of beating the cancer.
Joan missed only six days of work during treatment. Co-workers at Fairview Southdale Hospital were vigilant. When she looked tired, they’d pitch in to help get her through the day. “People weren’t afraid to ask how I was doing,” she says. “And my husband was my rock.”
Four years later, her prognosis is good and everything is clear. In Joan’s opinion, getting regular mammograms isn’t just smart—it’s vital. “I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, and was never considered to be at risk for it,” she says. “Just because you went last year doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go annually. I go every year.”