Minnesota Breast Cancer Survivor Tells The Truth About Mammograms
I saw one of the coolest things while I was driving yesterday in Minnesota. A car had its entire hood "pinked" with a pretty massive pink ribbon on it. If you haven't seen that car or any other pink ribbons lately, I'm here to let you know that it is breast cancer awareness month. There is a LOT of pink happening right now and we are even throwing some of that pastel color to show our support too. But that's not all we are doing.
1 in 8 women during their lifetime will hear the devastating statement, "You have breast cancer". This month, we've invited a few breast cancer survivors into the studio to let them talk into the microphone and share their story with you - the day they found out they had cancer, what their symptoms were, and as you'll hear today, the actual pain level of a mammogram.
Today, we are hearing Jude's story.
JESSICA: Hey, it is Jessica Williams and we are spending the entire month of October talking about breast cancer awareness and not just talking about it. We are actually sharing some different stories of women right here in our area who have been impacted by breast cancer who are survivors and are telling their own stories, including this amazing woman. Go ahead and introduce yourself to everyone.
JUDE: I'm Jude Brogan from Pine Island, MN, a lifelong southeastern Minnesota resident.
JESSICA: So, when did you move to Pine Island?
JUDE: When I got married in 1988, we just celebrated our 35th anniversary last weekend.
JUDE: Thank you.
JESSICA: Well, we are going to talk about cancer today, but before we get into those details, what is something that you love to do? Something that is just fun for you and fills you up with joy.
JUDE: The one thing that I really take a lot of joy in is crochet. I've done that For probably 25 years and I have probably made hundreds if not thousands of blankets in that 25 years, and I've not kept one.
JESSICA: Wow, where do they go?
JUDE: A lot of time, just graduations or weddings, babies. I am in a crochet group for our church and they do donations for, I believe the homeless shelters in town. Otherwise, it's just a lot of times the blanket speaks to me and says I need to go to so and so and I will just do that.
JESSICA: That's amazing. I know a lot of people are probably benefiting from that. Maybe they don't even know who you are and that you did that for them. So, thank you for that.
Ok, shifting gears. Breast cancer is what we are here to talk about and the fact that you are a survivor. I don't know your story. Can you share that with me? Did you have symptoms? How did you first find out?
JUDE: I was diagnosed on a routine mammogram when I was 50, so six years ago...and I just gave away my age.
JESSICA: It’s ok, but I'm not telling mine.
JUDE: (laugh) I got in for the routine mammogram which I have done since I was 40, as the recommendations have always been, because I am adopted so I don't have a family history to go by for any of those genetically predisposed cancer diagnosis. So, I went in for my regular mammogram and you know, you call to get your results. When I called, they said, “you need to come back in for a second view”.
I also have dense fibrocystic disease, which can sometimes cause a second. I've been called back for a second view before so I wasn't incredibly worried about it. And so, I went back in and after I got done with that view, they said, “OK you need to wait here for the radiologist consultant to come and speak to you”, and that's when alarm bells started going off.
He pulled me into a consult room and said, “You know, there's some stuff on here, we're not really sure what it is. It might be cancer. It's just this little tiny spot. It's hard to tell.” So, they asked me to come back for a stereotactic breast biopsy, which is a horrible thing to go through. It's not fun. But you got to do what you got to do because it’s always better to know than to not know.
They did that on a Wednesday and they said they should have the results by Friday, but if not Friday, Monday. Well, of course, they were not ready by Friday. We went through the weekend, my husband and I, wondering and not knowing, and tried to keep ourselves occupied.
Monday I was at work. I work remotely from home. Noon came and went. 3:00 pm came and went and I hadn't heard anything. Finally, at about four, I called my provider and asked. I couldn’t take it and really needed to see the results. The nurse called back and gave me the results that I had three spots in one breast that were positive for DCIS - ductal carcinoma in situ, which just means that the cancer cells were in the milk ducts of the breast. If there can be good news, that's it.
Then you have to get an appointment. They have a nurse talk to you first before that because they know the absolute mental anguish from hearing “Mrs. Brogan, you have breast cancer” to actually talking to a physician to get some sort of plan or some sort of finite details because that's that whole “what if” thing that can take you into some really bad territory.
One piece of advice the nurse first told me was “Do not Google this, make sure you stay on the Mayo Clinic website or the American Cancer Society website because those are legitimate, verified websites, and don’t just go out looking for whatever information because you are going to scare yourself”.
Next week, I met with the breast clinic physician and the surgeon, and because there were three spots in one breast it was an automatic mastectomy for that. And because I am adopted and don't know a family history when I said I wanted a bilateral mastectomy, they were OK with that. I don't know that they always are, but because I didn't have any information to go back on that they were OK with that.
I was a smoker at the time so I had to quit smoking and then it was six weeks after that that they could schedule the mastectomy now. I did not have to have chemotherapy. I did not have to have radiation. I did not have to have hormone therapy. If there is a good path to breast cancer, I had it.
I had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction, and I didn't have any complications. I didn't have any issues and within a week after the mastectomy when I went back to see the breast clinic surgeon, I was given a diagnosis of remission and that's been six years ago.
JESSICA: Amazing. So that was your treatment, Your prognosis, which is awesome that they told you that you were in remission. That is NOT what everybody gets to hear.
JUDE: No, it's not. That's not the diagnosis that a lot of people get. I wasn't really aware of a lot of breast cancer statistics or information or data before I was diagnosed. But then I went to a support group, you know, between the diagnosis and the surgery and a little bit after that too, and it is amazing how many people are touched by it.
JESSICA: Right. As we have conversations about cancer, I’ve mentioned to people that my family has been impacted by a variety of types. Cancer doesn't care who you are. It doesn't care where you live, how much money you make, what your job title is. It is going to do what it wants to.
JUDE: Yep, it's an equal opportunity killer.
JESSICA: Yes, it is.
So, from the time that you had that mammogram to when they said you were in remission, what was that time frame?
JUDE: End of June was the mammogram and at the end of September I was in remission. So my course was only three months. I was so, so lucky.
JESSICA: And just thankful that they caught it at that point and it wasn't the next year.
JUDE: Absolutely. I've talked to some people and they say breast cancer is on the rise because so many more people have it. I don't think so. I think it's being caught earlier because of diagnostic therapies that are available.
And I can't stress enough to anybody to get their mammogram. They're not fun. They're uncomfortable, but you know, an hour of being uncomfortable vs. chemotherapy or radiation, it's not a hard choice, right?
JESSICA: Sometimes you just have to suck it up and do the adulting thing that you're supposed to do and take care of you.
JUDE: And in the long run it's going to do better things for you.
JESSICA: Exactly. So we were talking about mammograms. For someone who has never had a mammogram, for whatever reason they’ve never made an appointment, you said it's uncomfortable. I've had one and I agree with you. But it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be though. On a scale of 1 to 10 for you with 1 = no problem at all to 10 = the worst pain you’ve ever experienced in your life, where would a mammogram fall for you?
JUDE: Three or four. Yeah, they squeeze, because they have to be able to get that view. But I've stubbed my toe and it hurts worse.
JESSICA: I agree, and it's just for a couple of seconds. It's not sitting there squeezing for half an hour. It's just a couple of seconds.
JUDE: It is and those diagnostic therapies are evolving all the time. Mayo Clinic is a research facility in addition to a clinic facility and they are absolutely trying to find less uncomfortable, less invasive ways to diagnose multiple kinds of cancer, but specifically breast cancer.
JESSICA: For a woman who, or a guy, who just got the news that they have breast cancer, what is some advice that you would give them?
JUDE: Don't Google. I'm going to go there again. My husband is a champion Googler and I had to really tame him down from doing that. But you know, lean on your family, accept help, ask for help. There are support groups. The Join the Journey organization in Rochester has a pink mentor program where they try to pair a breast cancer survivor whose journey is or whose diagnosis is very similar to what was just given to a patient to help them kind of walk through it, maybe hold their hand a little bit.
Another bit of advice, ask questions, write the questions down and no question is too silly, too ridiculous, too stupid. If it's on your mind, you need an answer.
I prayed a lot. Whatever higher power works for you, use it. Lean on it and try and stay positive.
You talked about joy. Find that joy where you can to offset whatever negativity might be living in your brain.
Something I saw on Facebook was, “Look for glitters, the things that trigger joy, so you get glitters instead of triggers”. Focus on the glitters.
JESSICA: I love that. Last question and this is a fun one. If you could win a shopping spree, let's say 30 grand, where would you go to spend the money?
JUDE: Joann Fabric, I would buy yarn and yarn and more yarn.
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JESSICA: Appreciate you being here. Is there one last thought that you want to share?
JUDE: Just stay aware, be self-aware, and don't avoid getting a mammogram because you're afraid of what you might find because again, it's always better to know. Knowledge is power.
Townsquare Media cares about our community. We are sharing the stories of breast cancer survivors all month and you can find those and other helpful resources on our station app all powered by Mosaic Chrysler in Zumbrota, Beyond sales, it's service.