‘It was malignant’

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 18, 1999

Breast cancer never ran in Helene Summers’ family.

Monday, October 18, 1999

Breast cancer never ran in Helene Summers’ family. But when her 30-year-old daughter was diagnosed with the disease, Summers realized she too was at risk.

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She then began a careful health regimen that included monthly self -examinations and regular mammograms.

Almost a year ago, the Albert Lea woman found a lump. She also found the courage to face the long road she knew was ahead.

&uot;I never thought it could be me. That’s something every woman says,&uot; Summers said. &uot;You keep thinking that biopsy will come out negative.&uot;

But when Summers had a biopsy at Albert Lea Medical Center, the call she got a couple days later confirmed her fear.

&uot;They said it was malignant and it could be bilateral,&uot; she said.

She went for a second opinion at Mayo and got conflicting results.

Summers had additional tests and decided to have a double mastectomy.

&uot;They found three spots on one side and two on the other,&uot; Summers said.

But doctors are confident the cancer didn’t spread to any other system in her body. Had she found the cancer later in life, her outcome may not have been so promising.

It’s been about three months since the woman had the double mastectomy and completed her chemotherapy.

Summers can honestly say regular self-examines and yearly mammograms saved her life.

Although some of the tests and biopsies concluded the lumps she found were not cancerous, Summers knew the lumps were not normal breast tissue.

In performing regular self-examines, &uot;you get used to the feel of your own tissue,&uot; Summers said. &uot;You have to follow your own intuition. You know your own body. You have to take care of yourself.&uot;

Summers said her doctors were very informative and supportive of the decisions she made. That relationship with her health care providers made her battle with cancer a little easier to bear.

&uot;We’re very fortunate to have a cancer treatment center here,&uot; Summers said. &uot;The oncology nurses were absolutely wonderful – very encouraging.&uot;

Summers isn’t totally out of the woods yet. She’s still on tamoxifen, a drug that normally follows chemotherapy. But Summers said she’s &uot;on the road to recovery.&uot;

Summers is back at her job as a traffic manager for KATE-AM. She’s also happy to report that her daughter has also recovered from her bout with breast cancer a couple of years ago.

&uot;Her own diligence saved her life,&uot; said Cheryl Lonning, a Freeborn County Public Health Nurse.

Lonning said it’s important for women to take control of their health, and perform regular exams starting between 18 and 20 years old. She added that women should have a clinical examination and women over 40 should have yearly mammograms.

&uot;Some women might be fearful (of mammograms) but they should know it takes less than a minute,&uot; Lonning said.

An estimated 175,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in women this year.

But the disease doesn’t strike at women only. About 1,300 new cases of breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in men in 1999.

As October is breast cancer awareness month, Lonning and Donna Peterson, also a public health nurse, have coordinated efforts to encourage women to get mammograms and begin monthly self-examinations.

They are relying on the word-of-mouth to reach women.

&uot;Packages of information were handed out at JoAnn Fabrics (and Crafts) earlier this month,&uot; Peterson said.

This year, they’re hoping area nurses and waitresses will help spread the word.

`Nurses will be talking to their patients and offering information.

Mints and table tents were offered to waitresses to help them share vital information with their clients. And of course, those pink ribbons will be handed out.

Though an ongoing program, Lonning and Peterson are also trying to push Minnesota Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Prevention’s free mammograms.

&uot;The program is for women over 40, and the financial guidelines are meant to be generous,&uot; Peterson said.

Women without health insurance, unmet deductibles or insurance that doesn’t cover screening might be illegible for the free mammograms, depending on income guidelines.

Lonning and Peterson recommend yearly mammograms because the tests can detect cancer up to two years before the lump would be big enough for a doctor to feel.

Outcomes are significantly better with early detection, Lonning said. The five-year survival rate for women whose cancer is detected and treated while in the early stage is close to 97 percent.

For more information about breast cancer prevention and treatment, including how to perform self-examinations, contact the Freeborn County Public Health office or log on to the American Cancer Society’s web site, www.cancer.org.