Colleen...

Photo of Colleen Degenhardt with her support teamI’ve always felt that it’s important to have preventive healthcare exams every year, and 2009 was no exception. I scheduled my annual exam for June, right around my 46th birthday. When I went in for my mammogram, I didn’t think I had anything to worry about because I have absolutely no family history of breast cancer.

Then, I got the phone call from the Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care. They asked me to come in because my screening mammogram showed suspicious spots on the left side. After more mammograms and a breast ultrasound, Dr. Jeannette Spilde found spots on the right side, too. I went back in for biopsies, and the next day Dr. Spilde called with the news. I had cancer.

I hung up the phone and cried. The “C” word scared me to death.

My husband and I went to the Center for Breast Care that day to talk with nurse Joy Hennessy and social worker Janette Dawson. They were wonderful. They sat with us for at least an hour explaining my diagnosis—the good news was it was caught early so the prognosis was good—and how we should talk to our three children.

Then, it was time to make some decisions. They knew the spots on the left where cancerous. The spot on the right looked suspicious, but they couldn’t get a good biopsy sample because the tissue was so dense. After talking to my care team, I chose to have a double mastectomy. It’s a good thing I did because it turns out the spots on the right were cancerous, too. While the cancer fortunately had not spread to the lymph nodes, I opted to have chemotherapy as a “life insurance policy” that I’d be here for my family down the road.

My support system throughout my treatment was family, friends and co-workers. All played a roll in my healing process, whether it was meals delivered, friendly visits, cards or words of inspiration. I could not have done it without all of them. On December 23, 2009, my co-workers surprised me with a visit to celebrate my last chemotherapy treatment. It is a day I will always remember.

Today, I can say I am a one-year survivor. After going through this journey, I truly understand the importance of having screening mammograms starting at age 40. I encourage everyone to get an annual mammogram. It is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and those you love.

Colleen Degenhardt
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