October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
One in eight women will develop a form of the disease at some time in their life, according to information provided by Dr. Matt Triplett, hematologist/oncologist at the Susan O’Brien Fischer Cancer Center at the Bothwell Regional Health Center Health Fest on Oct. 17.
“There have been 231,840 new cases of breast cancer this year, and 40,290 deaths,” Triplett said. “It has moved up this year to be the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer, surpassing lung cancer.”
“It is a very common form of cancer,” Tripplett said in his remarks. “There are a lot of new cases reported, but thankfully not that many deaths.”
The survival rate is 89.94 percent for a patient after five years and early detection is one key to survival.
Dr. Jennifer Boatright, a veterinarian at Thompson Hills Animal Clinic, did all the right things to care for her health, scheduling yearly checkups and exams.
“When I was much younger I had a scare with melanoma on my leg,” Boatright said. “It was because I was young and stupid and I spent too much time in tanning beds and out in the sun.
“Luckily it was benign, but I lost my mother to ovarian cancer and I have one sister who has survived breast cancer, so I knew the importance of testing,” she added. “Typically, all my doctor’s appointments and tests are scheduled in March.”
Three years ago, Boatright was told she had an abnormal test result with her mammogram and was asked to return for another test.
The second exam came back with a normal result but because of changes to the insurance guidelines for mammograms, her next scheduled appointment was offset by three months.
In July 2014, a year after the first abnormal results, Boatright was told she had a questionable abnormal spot in her other breast.
She was referred to Ellis Fischel Cancer Hospital in Columbia for a second opinion Aug. 10, 2014.
“By now I could feel the knot in my breast, so I knew there was something there,” Boatright said. “The technician came out and said, ‘We have an opening in our ultrasound department today, would I like to have that appointment?’
“Then, after that test they asked if I wanted to have a biopsy,” she added. “You aren’t asked questions like that without a reason.”
When Boatright was given the results a week later, she was diagnosed with a form of non-hormonal breast cancer, triple negative carcinoma of the breast.
Additionally she was told there were two separate tumors in the same breast that would have to be treated with chemotherapy and possibly radiation.
After discussions with her doctors and family, and considerable prayer, Boatright made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy.
She also made the decision to start her reconstructive surgery immediately following the mastectomy.
Surgery was scheduled for two and a half weeks later because that was the first time both the surgeon who would perform the mastectomy and the plastic surgeon had openings in their schedules.
Thinking she had 19 days to prepare for what was going to happen, a second surgeon called her and said the surgery could be moved to five days after she made the initial decision to proceed.
“In a way it was easier to just go ahead and get it done,” Boatright said. “Stress doesn’t do anything to help the situation.”
After spending three days in the hospital, Boatright had to wait six weeks before beginning her chemotherapy.
Several of her reconstructive surgeries were done before the start of her chemotherapy in October 2014.
“I was blessed because I had no cancer in my lymph nodes;” Boatright said “I didn’t need any transfusions and really didn’t suffer any nausea from the chemo.”
She did make the decision, after genetic testing following her mastectomy, to have a complete hysterectomy in April of this year.
“With my family history, I decided I wanted to be proactive in my care,” she added. “After losing my mother and one sister having breast cancer, it seemed necessary to have the testing.
“My little sister is a carrier as well and eventually my children will be tested,” Boatright said.
Boatright and her husband, Matt Boatright, have two children, David and Hannah.
Boatright had her last chemo treatment a week after her son’s wedding in January.
“I know all of this was far harder on my family than me,” Boatright said. “I knew the doctors could get me through the physical aspect of everything and I tend not to fret about myself.
“I had one pity party for myself because our daughter was a senior in high school when most of this was happening, and our son was going to be married within the year as well,” Boatright said. I wanted to be there for them and my family.”
It is the strength of her family and her faith that Boatright gives a great deal of credit to in her 14-month journey of recovery.
“This has all been God’s choice, both the illness and my recovery,” Boatright said. “It’s not fun and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
“I have an incredible, wide support group of prayer,” she added. “I chose not to worry about the what ifs, but instead I decided I wouldn’t let it control me.”
She shared the story of one of the bright spots in her treatment.
“It was at the completion of my chemo when one of my doctors recommended that I keep my chemo port in, in the event that I may need it in the future,” Boatright recounted. “I told him that I didn’t want to think about the what if’s and asked if I couldn’t be comfortable and have it removed.
“It was a constant reminder that I didn’t want or need,” she added.
Today her life is one of monitoring her health.
Doctors have told her if the cancer returns it is most likely to do so in the first two to three years.
“If I make it to five years then I will probably be OK,” she said “If God chooses for me to deal with this again, then we will.
“Talking to others about this has helped me a great deal,” Boatright said. “My doctors and medical team have been outstanding and so have all the people who have helped in so many ways.
“I think it is best not to internalize it,” she said. “There are so many good people who are willing to help and God protects us from a lot.”
Keeping a healthy lifestyle
While doctors search for better ways to fight breast cancer with improved detection methods and treatments, they also continue to seek ways to prevent the disease.
Some risk factors at present are uncontrollable. This includes certain genes that place 5 to 10 percent of women at extreme risk.
The following 10 healthy lifestyle habits can help prevent breast cancer as well as lowering the risk of other cancers, heart disease and other serious medical conditions.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables daily, make your grains whole grains, and cut down on red meat. Consider reducing fat in the diet, especially saturated fat and trans fat.
• Get plenty of exercise, aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week.
• Limit drinking to no more than one alcoholic beverage a day.
• Decide carefully before starting or continuing hormone replacement therapy.
• Learn about medical conditions that you may have or be at risk for developing.
• Schedule health check-ups on time.
• Avoid tobacco products and secondhand smoke.
• Practice stress management.
• Get enough sleep each night.
Information provided by Bothwell Regional Health Center Foundation.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484