Early detection is key says breast cancer survivor

Outlook managing editor
Michele Ames of Laurel  was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 after a routine mammogram.

Michele Ames of Laurel knows what it takes to get through a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment: a strong support network. Ames said it was the love of her kids, parents, sister and a lot of great friends that gave her strength.
While love may have been a saving grace after the diagnosis, it may have been early detection that saved her life.
According to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation website at https://ww5.komen.org, regular screening can detect cancer before any symptoms are evident when the chances for survival are highest. The Foundation provides funding to programs for free screening for over 1,000 women every day.
American Cancer Society guidelines advise;
• Women ages 40 to 44 should have the choice to start annual breast cancer screening with mammograms if they wish to do so (or are at a higher risk of developing the disease).
• Women age 45 to 54 should get mammograms every year.
• Women 55 and older should switch to mammograms every 2 years, or can continue yearly screening.
• Screening should continue as long as a woman is in good health and is expected to live 10 more years or longer.
• All women should be familiar with the known benefits, limitations, and potential harms linked to breast cancer screening.
• Women should also know how their breasts normally look and feel and report any breast changes to a health care provider right away.
Ames was lucky to have her family, and friends like Sharon Fleming, who has also faced breast cancer and was featured in the Outlook last year.
Fleming went to every appointment with her friend. “I couldn’t ask for a better friend,” Ames said.
Ames’ ordeal began with a hysterectomy in 2006, she said. While the connection can’t be proven, she thinks the hormones she was prescribed may have triggered her cancer because it was estrogen positive and her doctor immediately took her off the drug.
“Then I had mammograms in 2007 and 2008 that required follow-up,” she said. “The same thing happened with the mammogram I had in 2009.” Following that, her doctor ordered a biopsy.
“They called me two days later and said, ‘You have cancer,’” Ames reported. That was in February. In April, the then 47-year-old Ames had a double mastectomy.
“I was a relatively young woman still, so it’s a good thing I had a mammogram every year,” she said. “I always tell my friends, ‘get your squeeze done. Early detection is crucial. It’s well worth 20 minutes to save your life.’”
Ames said not knowing how her life would change after surgery was the worst part of the whole experience.
“It was the unknown. I had never gone through anything like this,” she said. “But, my second oldest daughter was pregnant and close to delivery so her doctor induced her three days before my surgery. On April 22, I got to hold my grand baby.” While nothing could completely take away the pre-surgery anxiety, the baby was a welcome distraction.
“That got me through the last two days before surgery,” Ames said. The surgery went as planned but the mastectomy wasn’t quite the end of the ordeal. As she had elected to have breast reconstruction, Ames went through the preparation treatments and plastic surgery. All of her main care was through St. Vincent Healthcare.
“It’s been eight years now,” she said. “So, my life is fairly normal, although my outlook has changed. I don’t worry about the little things so much anymore.”


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