By Rachael Tolliver-IRAHC PAOOctober 18, 2018
You can't hide from it. Not in the comfort of your childhood home, your space at the gym, lost in your favorite hobby, or even in the military. Breast cancer will find you--as it did Nicole Crow, Karen Ray and Helena Mitchell who all work at Fort Knox, Ky. But it could easily be any community in Kentucky.
It is estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society and Ray was that one woman in eight during 2015. Mitchell was "the one" in 2016 and Crow was diagnosed in 2017.
While Ray said, in a 2016 story published in the Fort Knox Gold Standard, that she knew she had a cyst in her breast, Crow and Mitchell weren't monitoring anything and had no family history. But when the results of their mammogram came out, all three women said they were shocked.
However, it was the timing of the mammogram that all three said saved them.
"I went to have my mammogram which I should have done about two months earlier, but I'm glad I had it when I did because I was at stage 1,"said Mitchell, an employee at Human Resource Command on Fort Knox. "If I had done it earlier, I (wonder) would it had shown up then."
Ray, a registered radiology technician at Ireland Army Health Clinic on Fort Knox, had been monitoring a lump in her breast. She said she performed regular self-exams and had known she had a cyst--but then it changed--something a mammogram also detected.
And Crow wasn't even getting yearly breast exams when she learned she had stage 1 breast cancer--she was still three years away from getting yearly mammograms.
"On July 31, 2017 my childhood best friend past away from stage 4 breast cancer," explained Crow, who is a human resources assignment manager at HRC. "So I immediately went in to talk to my doctor, I had a meltdown crying and telling her about my friend. She said we should see if my insurance would cover a mammogram since I wasn't yet 40."
Typically doctors recommend a yearly mammogram once a women reaches age 40, unless there is a family history and reason to start earlier.
"The insurance approved the tests so my doctor (Hardin Memorial Healthcare provider) scheduled them for me," she continued. "It came back that there were two spots so they did a biopsy. And that revealed I had stage 1 breast cancer. But I am so grateful to my doctor for doing that.
"I was at my mom's house, waiting on the results and when the call came in. I put the phone down, looked at my mom and said, 'I have breast cancer. Will you go with me to my doctor's appointment?'"
She added that her first thought was, "How are my kids going to take this?" The answer was that they cried, they talked as a family, and she told them they could ask any questions, and go to the doctors' appointments with her.
All three women consider themselves cancer free "survivors," and they said one of the keys to recovery was support--from family, friends and the people who are around them every day.
In Mitchell's case her sister came for the surgery and her friends brought food over for her to eat in the weeks that followed. And for Ray, her support group includes home, work, and community friends. She said she has a "big" family--and topics such as breast cancer and when everyone's yearly appointments are can be common talking points.
And Crow said having her church friends, work friends, and family friend's means she is never without someone to talk to. She said that her family and friends did everything for her from helping with cleaning and cooking to helping out with her kids.
"Both my kids play football…one in high school and one in middle school," she explained. "I couldn't be at the games like a mother should be, so my friends and family stepped up to be there. My dad made sure he was at every single game."
Getting a yearly physical is part of maintaining good health, and a yearly mammogram is part of such maintenance-- that includes exams for symptomatic men.
"Good health is a combination of things we do as individuals," said Dr. James Stephens, the chief of preventive medicine at IRAHC. "Those things include choosing good foods to eat, exercising, and getting enough sleep. You also need to get a yearly physical--preventive maintenance just like with your car but here your body is like the car engine. We make sure everything is still running properly. And for women a mammogram is part of that maintenance. All you have to do is get a referral from your primary care physician, authorization from insurance and the radiology department will take it from there. Look at it this way, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Mitchell, Ray and Crow said if they had one message it would be "get tested early." And Ray added that self-exams do pay off.
"The biggest advice I can give is to do self-exams and to get your annual mammograms," she said. "Guidelines for (mammograms can be) different depending on the patients history, and this includes men! But I would tell everyone to speak openly with their provider, not only about their family history but, about all their risk factors. Early detection does save lives- I'm living proof!"
To schedule a mammogram please contact your primary care provider for a referral, and insurance authorization. If you are a beneficiary at IRAHC please call 800-493-9602 for an appointment with your PCP or visit Tricare Online at www.tolsecuremessaging.com.