It is the diagnosis that can shake a woman to her core and challenge every aspect of daily living. One in eight women will develop breast cancer and enter the fight of her life. We spoke with Kerry Andersen, a familiar face for many in the lake area, about her breast cancer battle.
Andersen knows all to well what she is seeing as she looks at the images of her breast tissue with CHRISTUS St. Patrick surgeon Dr. Ronald Kober. "You can see these multiple little areas of speckling," explained Dr. Kober.
Those tiny speckles, shown in Andersen's January mammogram, were the first sign that something was wrong. "I just knew something was off," she said, "I really think as women we just know."
Andersen has always been on top of her health. This single mom and public affairs director for Pinnacle Entertainment was exercising daily, eating right and getting a yearly mammogram - never imaging her mammogram and biopsy would show cancer. "In an instant, the things that don't matter fall away," she said, "I certainly experienced it on a whole new level after this diagnosis."
Andersen has no family history of breast cancer and never felt a lump or pain. Dr. Kober said most cancerous lumps do not hurt. "Cancer usually doesn't hurt until it spreads somewhere or causes other problems in other organ systems," he said.
Many women procrastinate about getting a mammogram, thinking that it will take up too much time or it is too hard to leave work or family. But realistically, the process only takes about 15 minutes and can help detect cancer early enough to treat it and save your life. "Survival rates are excellent if you can catch any cancer early enough and especially with use of mammography," said Dr. Kober.
To get rid of the cancer, Andersen had a right side mastectomy and several lymph nodes removed from the right arm. It was an invasive surgery, but one she believes saved her life. "If you wait, the outcome is not a good one," said Andersen, "the outcome for me now is that I get to still be a mom."
While Andersen is cancer-free today, she says her journey is far from over - and she, like every other woman with a similar diagnosis, cannot walk away unchanged. "There is no way that you can face, as a mother, that mortality at such an early age and come out the other side a same person," she said.
Since Andersen had a hormone-thriving cancer, she has to take medication for five years to keep her recovery on the right path and has had to eliminate chemical and hormone-laden foods. She also has four reconstructive surgeries set, a procedure that is now covered by insurance for breast cancer patients.
Take a look at these two links that Andersen found helpful:
*Take Them A Meal is an easy way to sign up for meal delivery. The website allows breast cancer survivors to still be a mother and feed their family, while allowing others to help.
*This Business Week article talks about a new breast cancer DNA study.