LifeBridge Health’s third Mammothon is scheduled for Nov. 1, offering extended hours to make sure that local women do not forget their annual screening.
And Dr. Dona Hobart, medical director of breast health services for LifeBridge, said the event is less about getting everyone out on the specific day and more about reminding those who have not had mammograms within recommended time frames to schedule their appointments.
“So for me that's the real importance,” Hobart said, “that every year it’s a reminder. Patients get the card, see the billboard, see the ad on TV — they say, ‘Oh I haven't done that this year, I need to do that,’ and that’s, I think, the bottom line.”
Hobart said one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their life, and with mammograms it can be caught much earlier than with a breast self-exam.
“So line up eight of your friends and one of you is going to have it,” Hobart said. “So if you find it early enough, you make it kind of a blip on the screen rather than an incredible life-ending or life-defining moment.
“It’s always a life-defining moment for women,” she said, “but if we find it early it can be this brief treatment — and people do very, very well with breast cancer treatment. The earlier, the smaller, the better the treatment and the easier it is.”
The face of the Mammothon
That was the case for June Harlee, 67, the Northwest Hospital patient appearing in the LifeBridge Health Mammothon ads this year.
She participated in the Mammothon last year and was diagnosed with cancer after having her first mammogram in eight years.
“When I came in there, I just had signed up for the regular mammogram,” Harlee said.
But after doctors took the regular mammogram, they asked to take a three-dimensional mammogram, and then asked for a sonogram. That’s when she knew something was wrong.
“I was thinking she was going to say it’s a mistake,” Harlee said. “Then I was going through the tests and realized, ‘Oh no, this is not a mistake.’
“By the time I left that day, I really knew I had cancer,” she said. “I didn’t want to say anything to my children, to the rest of the family. I was still in shock myself, so I even called them back and they said, ‘Your records show you have ductal carcinoma.’ ”
Within two weeks she had a lumpectomy to remove the carcinoma and then she went to radiation therapy for four weeks straight. It was just this past July that she had her six-month appointment where she was ruled cancer-free.
Now she will continue taking her medication for five years and continue radiology check-ups to monitor the skin in the region where she had surgery.
Harlee says the Mammothon “really saved my life.”
“When the [reminder] card came in the mail, I just looked at it and put it on the table,” she said. “I looked at it again and said, ‘I really have no excuse this time because they are open with extended hours.’ It would have been much worse if I waited another couple of years.”
Then she said the doctors took some photos and she was teasing them about the Mammothon flier.
“I said, ‘You could take this lady off right there and put my picture right there,’ ” Harlee laughed.
Then they took her up on the offer and it is now her face that shows up on the LifeBridge Mammothon ads.
“It’s a hard hat and a sledgehammer,” she said. “I beat cancer. It’s a life-changing experience.”
When to get a mammogram
Dr. Satyajit Sarangi is a radiologist and the medical director of Advanced Radiology in the Charles O. Fisher Medical Building of Carroll Hospital, a LifeBridge Health Center.
According to the common guidelines, women should get their first mammogram at age 40 and then get one each year after they turn 45. Other guidelines, however recommend starting earlier, he said, at 35 years old.
“It’s even earlier if you have a history of cancer in your family,” Sarangi said this week. “If someone had breast cancer at 35 or 40, you’d want to get a mammogram 10 years before.
“But someone with no history of breast cancer in their family can start at 40, 45,” he said.
Some people do really well with their annual appointments, Sarangi said, but others can do really well when they are younger and then start to forget when they get older. And that’s where problems can happen.
“The problem is people get caught up in their own lives,” he said. “Sometimes people go six or seven years, and then it’s a waste. It’s bigger than it would have been and the bottom line is: The faster you get the cancer, the prognosis is much better.”
Harlee falls into this category, as she said she went for mammograms regularly until she started getting caught up with work and caring for her two young grandsons.
“Once it gets big you have the chance for breast cancer to spread through your whole body,” Sarangi said. “That’s the whole purpose of screening, to catch breast cancers that are very small and haven’t broken through the duct yet.”
“The Mammothon may save you, or your mother, sister, daughter or best friend,” states the LifeBridge Health Mammothon registration page. “It offers extended hours at LifeBridge Health breast care centers and select Advanced Radiology locations so all of the important women in your life can take action against breast cancer by taking the first step — getting a mammogram.”
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Also on the registration page, http://www.lbhmammothon.com, are more specific age-based screening recommendations and scheduling options for the Nov. 1 event.