Meet Debra, Nancy, Paige, Mary, Sarah and Denise. These GE employees seem like ordinary people: mothers, sisters and daughters. In fact they are warriors, breast cancer survivors who beat the disease and worked for the company that made the diagnostic equipment that helped detect the disease.
All women go through a different experience when they get their first mammogram. For Paige, it was a lucky coincidence: “I just turned 40, and GE collaborates with the University of Global Healthcare and their mobile mammography van came out here and all the screenings were free, and I was so anxious to take advantage of it, I was very excited. It felt like a little clinic, and nurses were just wonderful and so professional and it couldn’t have been a better experience for my first screening. It was pleasant actually.” Her positive story of being diagnosed after her mammography is a good example of why women should get screened regularly in order to help achieve early diagnosis and treatment.
According to the National Cancer Society, more than 75% of women over the age of 40 reported having a mammogram in the past two years in 2008. It is advised that women over 40 get mammograms every one to two years.
It was a surprise for Debra to see that she worked for the company that had made the scanning equipment. “I went in for my mammograms and ultrasounds and I saw GE on the machinery and I talked to the radiologist and said ‘oh, I work for GE’ and she said ‘oh really?’”. “It just really made me feel proud to know that I work for a company that’s cutting edge.”
All of the women remember where they were and what they were doing when they got the call from their doctors. Denise got the call at work, and she called him back: “I was just shocked, I just couldn’t believe that she was telling me that. I saw it as a sign, one of those big rocks in the stream, one that takes your life in another direction and I was ready to go in that other direction.”
Debra relied on family for support: “I was out working on the line and I got a phone call from my doctor and he said that they found cancer in my breast. My mother told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer and she cried one time and that was it. She said ‘you be strong, don’t you be crying’”. Her family history meant that she had seen her mother fight the disease and overcome it, giving her hope. A diagnosis is never a death sentence. It’s finding out what’s wrong and how to fix it.
“When I was diagnosed, they really couldn’t tell the extent until they could do the surgery, and then I had the surgery and that changed everything”, Denise explained. Her cancer type was triple negative and unresponsive to the drug treatment plan that many other types of breast cancer can be treated with, which meant radiation and chemotherapy.
Sometimes, all you can do is fight. “The surgery wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was trying to keep an open mind about chemo,” Sarah said. “After the chemo I saw the oncologist and she said to me ‘we’ve done all we can do at this point’”.
The surgery or the end of the treatment sadly isn’t the end of the road. An important part of fighting cancer is making sure it doesn’t come back. Sarah says that she sees her oncologist every six weeks to make sure that everything is all right.
For Debra, it’s every four months “just to stay on top of things. When they booked my last mammogram and it came back clear, it was wonderful.”
For Denise, the most important thing is not to lose sight of what to fight for. “Just hold on to the hope. Get informed, get involved, get your treatment and join the rest of us in the fight.”
Sometimes, you can get a lot of good out of the disease, find out how strong you are and how much you are loved. “It’s actually been a positive experience,” Sarah explained. “I look back and I think ‘oh gosh, I could write a book on this, how cancer saved my life.’ I just have so much to be thankful for; more grateful for the people around me who have been so supportive. I had no idea I had so many friends until the cards started coming, and it was just wonderful to see people reaching out and caring so much.”
Fighting cancer gives patients another perspective, and has the potential to make them appreciate things more. Debra dances. “When I get the opportunity on the line to go off to an area where I am by myself, I dance, and they say ‘look at her, she’s dancing’”. She’s celebrating life.
Share your experience
And you? How did you find out you had breast cancer? Did cancer change your life? Share your story and learn about other’s experiences. Help other patients around the world know more on the Breast Cancer Mosaic (link).