As a retired school teacher of 40 years, Gail Woolard knows the importance of following directions. When it comes to her health, she listens to the recommended guidelines to receive a yearly mammogram, starting at the age of 40. Following these directions — year in and year out — not only gave Gail peace of mind, but it may have saved her life.
Gail started having annual screening mammograms at Wake Radiology more than 15 years ago. Early on, she was told that she, like many women, has dense breast tissue. This was often the culprit for inconclusive mammogram results that required she come back for additional breast images. She learned that having dense breasts makes it more difficult to accurately read a mammogram and started taking the extra images in stride — willing to do what was needed to make sure she was cancer free.
Last May, at the age of 63, Gail went to the Wake Radiology Garner office for her annual screening appointment. That office was now providing 3D mammography — a revolutionary new breast imaging technology. Images from Gail’s first 3D mammogram showed an area of concern in her right breast.
“When the radiologist showed my husband and me my mammogram, we couldn’t see anything except a shadow,” said Gail. “I was surprised when Dr. John Matzko was able to identify a peppercorn-sized spot that turned out to be cancer. With my dense breast tissue, the lump was so small that it was essentially undetectable by an untrained eye and really only found because of the 3D technology.”
Gail’s “spot” was undetectable by breast ultrasound, and that’s when she traveled to the Wake Radiology office in Cary for a core biopsy with Breast Imaging Radiologist, Dr. Danielle Wellman. The position of Gail’s lump was about 4.5 inches below her collarbone — a place that some women forget to feel during self exams, even though it is still part of the breast tissue.
“Dr. Wellman is the absolute dream! I just think the world of her,” said Gail. “She and Jacqueline, my technologist, explained the entire procedure to me, told me what was going to happen, one step at a time, which made it a lot easier. Dr. Wellman also assured me that everything would be manageable and treatable. I appreciated her time and attention so much.”
Just three days later, Dr. Wellman called Gail to explain that her biopsy results were inconclusive. Unfortunately, the procedure needed to be repeated due to the hard-to-find blood vessel in Gail’s breast and the high location of the tumor.
“I was nervous, but determined to stay positive. In fact, I just went ahead and scheduled my next appointment with Dr. Wellman and Jacqueline,” said Gail. “This was a big relief since they knew my body and had been so professional and made me feel as relaxed and secure as I could be.”
“Honestly, I couldn’t have done it without them,” Gail continued. “They were such a team and reassured me multiple times that we could get through it — their positive attitude and confidence made me feel secure.” Dr. Wellman assured Gail that she would be available to answer any questions that she may have.
In July, Gail had surgery to remove her Stage 1 breast cancer. The tumor was so small that even the surgeon couldn’t feel it. She recently completed her first round of radiation and will not have to undergo chemo due to the early 3D detection.
For Gail, a 3D mammogram made the difference in when her breast cancer was detected and saved her a world of complications.
“Multiple healthcare professionals have told me that had I not opted for a 3D screening mammogram, my cancer may have not been found until at least a year later. I feel so lucky to have had it caught so early,” said Gail.
Gail hopes her story will convince women over 40 to “follow the rules” and get regular screening mammograms. “If women have 3D as an option, they need to take advantage of it. If I had not received a 3D mammogram, my tumor would have had a year to grow. Mammograms are uncomfortable for five minutes, but that’s it!”
Wake Radiology is the Triangle leader in 3D mammography with 8 offices and 10 units available to patients in Cary, Chapel Hill, Garner, Smithfield, Wake Forest and various locations throughout Raleigh. It’s simple to have a 3D mammogram, you can select 3D when you make an online appointment request or talk with one of our schedulers at 919-232-4700.