Avoiding your regular mammogram can have serious, life-changing consequences
Who would know better than a mammographer about the importance of getting regular checkups for breast cancer? Marsha Baisden worked as a mammographer for eight years, and during that time encouraged women to get their regular screenings. She also heard too often the common reasons many women find to avoid them: being too busy, not having high risk factors, or putting family members’ needs before their own.
These are the reasons Baisden, who is today the regional site director at Adena Health Center in Jackson, Ohio, lists as the reasons she avoided mammograms. She has been with Adena since 1994 and worked as a mammographer until 2001, when she was promoted to a management position. The clinic at which she works offers mammogram services twice each week, so it could not have been easier for her to get the recommended annual checkup.
“I just wasn’t compliant,” Baisden says. “Every once in a while I’d do the right thing, but everything else in my life was a priority. As for risk factors, I wasn’t as fit as I should have been and had taken birth control. But I wasn’t worried. Life was good.”
Baisden’s rather indifferent approach to mammograms continued even after one of her screenings revealed a questionable area that required a biopsy. When the biopsy revealed nothing of any concern she went right back to her non-compliant ways.
Then, in 2016, she found a lump in her left breast. The initially dime-sized cyst grew to the width of a quarter within one month. Her nipple inverted, and she had dimpling on the skin. Without having been to the doctor, Baisden knew exactly what was going on.
“I was scared, really scared,” she says. “But instead of facing it I waited four more months before seeking medical treatment. I had a family vacation planned and paid for. I put off reality until I got back from our trip.”
THE WAITING GAME
After returning from vacation, Baisden went in for a mammogram and was biopsied the next day. They were, as Baisden puts it, 99.9 percent sure it was breast cancer. They just weren’t sure what kind.
It turned out to be invasive ductal carcinoma, a very common form of breast cancer. Baisden’s hormone receptors — estrogen, progesterone and HER2 — were all positive, indicating the cancer was being nurtured by hormones; and hormone-fed invasive ductal carcinoma grows and spreads quickly.
“The hormone is a fertilizer,” Baisden says. The good news was that half of women with a positive HER2 are cancer-free after surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. The question was how would she respond to the treatment?
Baisden was facing 30 rounds of radiation, more than four months of chemotherapy and a year of chemo with Herceptin. She also opted for a complete mastectomy of both breasts because the lump in her left one had grown so massive.
Baisden doesn’t hide her self-recrimination.
“I really screwed up,” she says. “If I had gone sooner, I could have had a lumpectomy instead of a bilateral mastectomy. No one in the health system would know better to get a mammogram than me. I played with fire and have no excuses. I felt guilty and horrible.”
The members of the medical team that treated Baisden did their best to fill her with a positive attitude during a trying time in her life. They pointed out the important thing was she was coming for treatment. And, precancerous cells of a completely different type were found in her right breast after the mastectomy.
Had she not opted to remove both breasts she could have at the very least faced treatments all over again in about four or five years.
Still, removing both breasts was a difficult and emotional process for Baisden, who decided against reconstruction.
Ultimately, the treatments eliminated the cancer from Baisden's body, and her prognosis is good with a mere five percent chance of reoccurrence.
“I’m okay with how I am now,” she says. “It’s taken me a lot to get to this point. I’m changed personally. I’m thankful every day for the little things.”
Life is precious, and yours is worth an annual or biannual screening. This gives doctors the ability to assess changes in breast tissue, which is critical for detecting cancer early. You are never too busy to protect what you cherish, both for yourself and for your loved ones.
Baisden’s journey is a message to all women who are 40 years and older. “Quit making excuses. Go, take care of yourself. Get your mammogram.”