As we recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we honor survivors and provide hope for those still fighting the battle.
Did you know?
According to the American Cancer Society, there has been a 40 percent decline in breast cancer deaths between 1989 and 2017, mainly due to improvements in treatment and early detection by mammograms.
Learning you have breast cancer can be frightening and unsettling, and no one should have to go through it alone. Beating the disease requires support from family members, friends, and experienced medical professionals. “We understand the impact a breast cancer diagnosis has on an individual and their family and friends,” says Paul Stefanacci, Vice President of Quality and Chief Medical Officer at UHS. “That’s why our teams have a long-standing commitment to women’s health and provide services that support individualized patient-centered care from diagnosis through survivorship.”
Such services proved to be lifesaving for Georgina Riley, Kayla Carroll and Ann Carter. These three brave women faced their breast cancer journeys with faith, hope, courage and determination. With the support of their families, friends, and the staff at Aiken Regional Medical Centers and The Cancer Care Institute of Carolina, they dug deep within themselves, stayed positive, and refused to give up. These are their stories.
Georgina Riley is a two-time cancer survivor. Now 70 years old, she was initially diagnosed when she was 52, and then again at 62. “The first time I was diagnosed, it was with a mammogram. But the second time, I found the lump,” says Riley, who has no family history of breast cancer. In both cases, treatment included radiation, chemotherapy and a lumpectomy.
Riley believes mammograms are critical. “It is very important to catch it early because it can save your life. You have so many more treatment options,” she says. “You also need to stay positive, have a strong faith, trust in God and count on friends and family for support. That was a blessing.”
After her treatment and remission, Riley became involved with CanHope, a nonprofit organization that helps people affected by cancer in nearby communities, as a way to give back. “I am thankful to be alive and grateful for all who helped me get through my journey.”
Kayla Carroll was 47 when she was diagnosed last year. “I found a lump in my breast and immediately went to see my OB/GYN,” says Carroll. “I then had a biopsy and the results indicated I had triple negative breast cancer. The only option was to do chemotherapy first, then radiation, because doctors were hoping they could shrink the mass.”
After five months of chemotherapy and 30 days of radiation, the mass did shrink, but there were still cancer cells present. Carroll then had surgery to remove some lymph nodes and her left breast. “I had the surgery late in the spring and will have reconstructive surgery after I am healed.”
Carroll says she did not previously get regular mammograms, nor does she have a family history of breast cancer. She urges women to check themselves regularly, and if you feel the tiniest lump, get it checked immediately. “It’s hard at first, but it gets easier. I have eight daughters, and my husband, who have supported me. My family is always there,” she says. “I am just grateful for all the support from them, my friends, and the nurses and doctors.”
Ann Carter was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 67. Now 74, she remains cancer free. “It was during my yearly mammogram that the radiologist saw something suspicious, so we needed to check it out. I am grateful they caught it when they did, because it could have been worse.”
Carter’s doctor ordered a biopsy, which led to a lumpectomy. Then began the anxious wait to see if she would need chemotherapy and radiation. “The test results indicated I should have six months of chemo. After that, I had six weeks of radiation treatment,” she says.
What stood out for Carter was the compassionate care she received from Carolyn Cook, the nurses and Mark Ezekiel, MD, at the Cancer Care Institute of Carolina. “They were so good to me – I truly felt cared for. Carolyn made herself available to me whenever I needed her,” Carter says.
Carter says she kept doing what she needed to do. “I knew I had to depend on the Lord because I could not do it by myself, and becoming friends with other patients was helpful. We all understood and supported each other,” she says. Her recommendations include getting a yearly checkup and mammogram, doing breast self-exams and making sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.