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Cancer does not discriminate, detection is key

In May 2011, I was diagnosed with breast cancer—less than two months after my mom lost her 20-year battle to the same disease. There are two things I know about cancer: it does not discriminate, and we must each do our part in detection.

Annually, I would make the dreaded phone call to schedule my mammogram; and monthly, I would perform a self-breast exam. Yet to my surprise, I noticed a lump on my left breast and a rash on my right shortly after my mother’s death. I figured it was just stress. I get these cysts all the time.

A week later at my annual exam, I mentioned the lump to my Gundersen Internal Medicine doctor, Smita Raja, MD, who took it very seriously. That same day, Dr. Raja walked me down to the scheduling desk for a diagnostic mammogram, including an ultrasound. It was 1:24 p.m. on May 10 when a team of physicians told me the lump on my left breast was only a cyst, but a mass was found in my right breast. A biopsy and PET scan later revealed the cancer in my right breast had metastasized to my lymph node and lung.

I was stunned! Just two months after mom passed away, I had stage IV breast cancer. 'How would I tell my family? How would I tell my friends? How would I get through this?'

Well, I made a choice. I could either wallow in self-pity or grab this thing by the horns and move forward. I chose the latter and found that keeping a positive attitude was half the battle. Under the expert care of Alcee Jumonville, MD (the same oncologist who cared for my mother), I was going to kick this as hard as I could, because I knew my medical team would do the same for me.

With aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy, I am now considered stage IV – no evidence of disease! I experienced a seamless transition of care at Gundersen, from my primary care provider to the radiologist to the oncologist to the surgeon. When dealing with cancer, this is a big deal. They make sure you have a plan in place and embrace a no-sleepless-nights approach to care. I’m eternally grateful for my second chance at life.

Breast cancer impacts so many women, their family and friends. That’s why I urge you to do regular self-exams and schedule yearly mammograms. As women, we’re very intuitive. We know our bodies and we have to trust them. If something doesn’t look or feel right, listen to your body and call your doctor. Early detection is key.

As for cancer support, do whatever you can. Donate, educate, walk in Steppin' Out in Pink or find a cancer fundraiser that resonates with you. With strong support, we can all be part of finding a cure!

Margie Mason
Stage IV breast cancer survivor

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