When it was time for Colleen Musolf’s annual mammogram, she knew she was in good hands. Who could be better for the job than her colleague Joanne Beardsley?
“After Joanne took the images, I said, 'Let’s double-check the pictures together for motion.' ”
After one look, Colleen pointed to a spot on the images — a spot that wasn’t there the year before.
Colleen was all too familiar with what to expect next. As a mammogram tech at the HealthEast Breast Center in Maplewood, she’s been on the other side of the table educating patients for more than 20 years.
Importance of yearly exams
A mammogram is the first line of defense against breast cancer and an effective tool for helping doctors evaluate breast health. Regular mammograms greatly increase the chances of early detection.
For most patients, the results are good news. But if something seems abnormal, follow-up tests like a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound, or biopsy will be ordered. Getting called back is common and doesn't necessarily mean it's cancer.
But Colleen was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma — a type of breast cancer that is often only detected by a mammogram.
Colleen’s cancer was caught early, and she underwent a lumpectomy and weeks of radiation.
“Anyone I encounter I ask, 'Have you had your annual screening mammogram this year?’ ” Colleen says. “Like in my case, things can change as quickly as a year. If I would have skipped a year or even delayed my appointment, my cancer would have been more advanced.”
Colleen now taps into her personal experience when working with patients.
“I know how my patients feel after you deliver the news that something didn’t look right and needs further testing,” Colleen says. “I’ve felt it first-hand, and it’s so easy to think the worst-case scenario.”
Colleen tells her patients it’s a good thing they're getting a call for further testing. It means the mammogram did its job.
“I celebrate with the ladies when the ultrasound finds nothing, and I hug those who need further testing. I want them to know that I’ve been in their shoes. It's a powerful connection.”
Colleen is now on the road to recovery. She's back to work and soon will be celebrating her one-year anniversary of being cancer-free.
“I’ve heard so many amazing survival stories and have met so many awesome survivors. And now I’m one of them.”