One Year Post-Diagnosis, Michelle Reflects On Fighting Cancer Close To Home

She encourages other women to have regular mammograms and do self-breast exams.

A dream that woke Michelle Chamernick would end up saving her life. “My husband’s alarm went off for work and I woke up from a dream about doing a breast exam,” says Michelle. The 47-year-old had always been good about getting regular mammograms and had just had one a few months earlier. She usually did self-breast exams, too, but hadn’t recently.

“I kept hearing this voice telling me that I needed to do a self-exam. It was almost haunting me,” Michelle recalls. “I don’t know if it was divine intervention, but I figured I’d better listen.” That’s when she discovered a lump in her breast and made an appointment with her OB-GYN.

The diagnosis

Michelle scheduled an ultrasound and 3D mammogram at Fairview Range Breast Center in Hibbing. She had a biopsy on Dec. 28, 2015. On New Year’s Day, Michelle received a phone call from her family physician, Mark Versich, MD, at Fairview Mesaba Clinic – Hibbing that changed everything.

Mark explained that Michelle had invasive ductal carcinoma, grade three—an aggressive form of breast cancer. She was immediately scheduled to see surgeon Sandra Hanson, MD, at Fairview Range.

“Dr. Versich was instrumental in getting me the best possible care I could get,” Michelle says. “I can’t thank him enough. To call me at home on a holiday and put my mind at ease and explain my diagnosis was incredible.”

Going above and beyond

Michelle was happy to get additional answers at her appointment with Sandra. “Dr. Hanson explained everything—all the procedures and options and what you have to think about,” Michelle says. “It was really helpful.”

By Jan. 18, Fairview Range had already done all her pre-surgery blood work, a brain MRI, a breast MRI and a PET scan. “Fairview was awesome,” says Michelle. “They have a no-nonsense approach when it has to do with breast cancer.”

Her surgery went well, and Michelle says the high quality of her care continued throughout her hospital stay. In March, Michelle began a total of 16 rounds of chemotherapy at Fairview Range. She says the oncology department was very thorough and did a good job explaining everything.

“I felt like everyone at Fairview treats me like family,” says Michelle. “I felt extremely special to them and that they really cared.”

The care she received went beyond the hospital walls. Michelle found comfort in being able to call the nurse navigator with questions and appreciated it when they checked in on her. Fairview Range staff also directed her to additional resources like Fairview’s cancer support group and the Look Good, Feel Better program, which provides professional hair and make-up advice for cancer patients.

Blessings in disguise

“One of the hidden blessings of cancer is that I’ve made good friends through this,” Michelle says. “It was really good to connect with others who were going through the same experience.”

Michelle says she was fortunate in that she didn’t experience many side effects from the treatment and didn’t miss much time from her job.

“I think it’s important for people to know we have a top-notch breast center and oncology department here in Hibbing with highly skilled and competent people,” says Michelle. As her condition improves, she focuses on three mantras: Trust your journey, fight like a girl and kick cancer’s butt.

She encourages other women to have regular mammograms and do self-breast exams.

“Catching it early is key,” says Michelle. “It’s better to find out it’s nothing than to wait until it’s too late.”

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