Behind those pink gloves, there is a story, a very personal story about how each of these women faced her breast cancer. While these women may look like someone you know — a sister, mom, or friend — they are extremely special to us. They all work for Wake Radiology. They are valued employees who bravely fought and won their battle against breast cancer. It may have taken them a few rounds, and they may have a few scars from the fight, but they are now enjoying life. We’re proud of them and their success against this disease.
As a Wake Radiology mammography technologist, 52-year-old Penni Booth has performed thousands of mammograms over the years. Since she knows what can happen when women delay having mammograms, she has been diligent in scheduling a screening exam each year. In 2006, her mammogram showed some microcalcifications in her right breast that had not been visible the previous year. A biopsy revealed that the margins were not clear, so a mastectomy was recommended. She says that she feels fortunate that her lymph nodes were clear, which helped her avoid additional treatment. It’s been nearly five years since her surgery, and she says, “Being a mammography technologist, I understand what our patients feel, and my story illustrates that it is not a terrible exam. While it may be slightly uncomfortable for a few seconds, it’s so worth it! What is terrible is having an underlying cancer sitting in your breast and not being an advocate for your own breast health. Breast cancer is not a death sentence, but being ignorant and fearful could be. The only way to be cured of cancer is to catch it early, and mammograms are our saving grace.”
Darlene Snodgrass was diagnosed with breast cancer at the same age as her mother. They were both 55 years old at the time their cancer was found. Since she had a strong family history, Darlene has regularly
had a yearly screening mammogram. Before her cancer was diagnosed, she said that allseemed normal. She had no symptoms, nor had she felt any lumps in her breast. However, in January 2005, a mammogram showed calcification clusters, and a subsequent stereotactic biopsy revealed two cancers — one was ductal and the other was lobular. She underwent a mastectomy in February 2005 and subsequent reconstruction surgeries. “My reconstruction surgeries have not gone as well as I would have liked. The odds of having complications from the type of reconstruction I had were one percent. I guess that one percent had my name on it!” Despite the setbacks with reconstruction surgery, she recently celebrated being cancer free for five years. Since her diagnosis, diagnostic mammograms and breast MRIs have found no recurrence. Darlene says that she hopes to be as fortunate as her mother. “Mom is now 85 years old — a 30-year breast cancer survivor.” As a secretary at Wake Radiology Comprehensive Breast Services in Cary, she often shares her survival story with patients who are nervous and concerned about their exam. “I’m living proof — along with my Mom — that you can beat breast cancer.”
In 2004, Nancy Kistler, an ultrasound technologist at Wake Radiology, had just turned 45 when she went in for her yearly mammogram. She wasn’t concerned about the exam, since she had no symptoms. The radiologist found an abnormality that concerned her, so she recommended Nancy have a more in-depth diagnostic mammogram. Microcalcifications were detected that led to a visit with a surgeon, who recommended a lumpectomy. Her medical oncologist referred her to Wake Radiology Oncology Services for six weeks of follow-up radiation. Nancy’s cancer was diagnosed as DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ). Nancy credits her success to “phenomenal support from my family, friends, and co-workers as well as Dr. Scott Sailer and the great staff of Wake Radiology Oncology Services. I never really worried because I knew I was in good hands all the way around.” Despite a couple of days of minor fatigue, she continued to work, driving to her quick radiation treatments each day during her lunch hour. “While this was a minor inconvenience for a short period of time, I was able to maintain a normal schedule.”
A fellow employee and fellow breast cancer survivor, Lee Davis, was a role model for Nancy. “Lee made my experience with breast cancer easier to handle. Her openness about her diagnosis and treatment taught me much that I hadn’t known. She answered many questions that unknowingly would prepare me for dealing with the disease. This taught me to share my story with others as well. I try to bring this element of self experience to all my patients, especially my breast patients, because I can relate to their fears and what may be ahead for them.”
Robin Feldbush has worked at Wake Radiology as a transcriptionist for nearly 30 years. Her experience transcribing reports of other women’s mammograms has kept her aware of her own breast health. In April 2006, she realized that she was a few months behind on scheduling a yearly mammogram. She went the next morning for the exam. “Dr. Richard Bird had just joined our staff, and he literally walked me through the process. After reviewing my mammogram, he suspected immediately that there was cancer present. He performed an ultrasound-guided biopsy, which confirmed it. By noon I had completed what I thought would be a routine mammogram, had a biopsy, and was told that I had cancer. Since my mother was adopted and we had no idea of any family history of breast cancer, my medical oncologist recommended an Oncotype DX® breast test (a tissue sample test that helps individualize breast cancer treatment and predict chance of recurrence). Those results, along with a detailed breast MRI, helped guide my treatment. The information provided by the staff at Wake Radiology gave my surgeon and medical oncologist the answers they needed to develop the best treatment for me.” Robin underwent a lumpectomy and removal of lymph nodes, which were negative for cancer. She takes tamoxifen and continues to see the radiation oncologist and medical oncologist for follow-up on a regular basis. She credits the swift action by Dr. Bird, the staff at Wake Radiology, and her wonderful medical oncologist, Dr. Mark Graham, for her excellent outcome. She also says that her very good friend and colleague at Wake Radiology, Lee Davis, was by her side and helped her through the initial shock of the news. “I was devastated as I was going through this, and Lee was my mentor. She had gone through a more difficult breast cancer treatment and knew exactly what to say and do when I needed it.”
Longtime Wake Radiology employee Lee Davis knows firsthand how difficult it is to hear the words, “You have cancer.” “I found my cancer completely by accident.” One night she had removed her bra to be more comfortable while watching TV. She folded her arms and tucked her hands under her armpits when she felt something that resembled a frozen pea. “It was a hard knot and unlike anything else I had ever felt in my body. I knew that I needed to get a mammogram immediately.” While Lee’s cancer was not detected on the mammogram, the radiologist felt the lump and knew that further testing was required. He performed an ultrasound and then a needle biopsy, which confirmed the disease. Over the course of the next several months, Lee underwent a breast-conserving partial mastectomy, chemotherapy as her cancer was invasive, and then follow-up radiation. “All my hair fell out, and I had some rather uncomfortable side effects from the chemotherapy.” At the same time as her cancer diagnosis, Lee rediscovered a passion — painting. She rented space at a local studio overlooking the Neuse River and has been painting ever since. “My painting was slightly interrupted due to neuropathy that developed during chemotherapy, but knowing that I could return to it gave me comfort.” Today, patients are comforted by Lee’s lovely paintings, which serve as beautiful backdrops in many of the Wake Radiology offices. “My story illustrates why self breast exams are so important. If I had not found the lump when I did, my story could have had a much different ending, since I had an aggressive form of breast cancer.”
Penni, Darlene, Nancy, Robin, and Lee are cancer-free now. Their stories and their determination to fight cancer — and win — are very similar to those of many of the patients who come to our offices each day. Their positive attitude and compassion are reflected in our staff. Just as Wake Radiology cared for its own, we care for each patient. While these five women are precious to us, so is each life that is entrusted to us. We take the fight to beat cancer seriously.
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