One Woman’s Story, Every Woman’s Responsibility
By now, most of us either know someone or are someone whose life has been affected by cancer. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but this year, health experts are pushing for more than awareness alone. Action is required in order to turn the tide in the fight against breast cancer. For many of us, doing anything about breast cancer can cause deep anxiety. Avoiding getting screened provides the illusion of safety—if you don’t know about it, the cancer isn’t real. Yet, the fact remains: 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. About 42,000 women will die from it in 2020 alone.
It’s time to take action. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women over 40 get a mammogram annually, starting at 35 if they have a family history of breast cancer. It’s up to each individual to make that choice, know their body, and get a mammogram, preferably with a health provider like INTEGRIS Health that offers a total continuum of care.
“Breast Cancer Screening, bilateral mammography, remains the single best way to detect breast cancer early,” says Dr. Lara Theobald, Medical Oncologist at INTEGRIS Cancer Institute. “This is the gold standard for screening.”
Because screening guidelines vary between recommending institutions, Dr. Theobald individualizes her recommendations between her and her patients, like Chickasha resident Jenny King. Jenny had been keeping a close eye on a few lumps since her early 30s, by getting regular mammograms. But when she was 37, she noticed a change. Her trusted OB/Gyn recommended she get another mammogram. She had a mammogram and an ultrasound—which is not out of the ordinary in younger women and women with dense breast tissue. The radiologist noticed a new lump hiding behind her known lump. This new lump was pushing the known lump outwards. The radiologist recommended a biopsy. Although Jenny didn’t know it then, this was the beginning of a long journey.
“On May the 7th, 2018 I went for my biopsy,” Jenny recalls. “I went alone because I knew it might take a while. My husband was at work, oldest kid at school, and my mom was watching our youngest. At this point I was very positive about it all, I had no thought that it was anything serious. But as I was leaving the biopsy the nurse that assisted the doctor looked at me with almost sadness in her eyes. I am sure it was all in my head but I felt like that was the moment I knew it was cancer. I got in the car and cried my heart out the 40-minute drive home. I got it all out and when I got home, I pretended all was good!”
She received the call a couple of days later. Jenny had invasive ductal carcinoma. Most women dread hearing this news, but health experts stress Jenny did the right thing by staying vigilant and then taking action. By receiving her diagnosis when the cancer was stage 2, Jenny gave herself and her medical team at INTEGRIS Health the best possible chance at fighting back.
Over 16 weeks at the INTEGRIS Cancer Institute, Jenny had eight rounds of chemo. By the time she’d rung the bell announcing herself cancer-free on September 13, she’d experienced first-hand how a continuum of care can make all the difference.
“Throughout these eight treatments, I quickly felt like family at the cancer institute,” Jenny says “Every single staff member I came in contact with treated me like family. Even the billing department—I should add I did not have any issues at all with the billing or insurance, NOT ONE—went out of their way to make me feel special. Dr. Theobald made me feel like I was her only patient. She never rushed me. She talked to me as long as I needed to as if she had all the time in the world for only me. And Dr. Theobald’s RN, Mark… it didn’t take long to bond with Mark. He was the one I called when I had a weird, sometimes TMI questions. He always called or messaged back within minutes. The injection nurses, the ladies at the desk, the lab. EVERYONE.”
Jenny left that day with mixed emotions. The “worst part” was over, but she had no idea the emotional toll those months would take.
“I have never had problems with anxiety or depression but something about the four months took a part of my soul,” Jenny recalls. “The MRI showed all the cancer was dead; great news!! Everyone was so happy for me, but for some reason I did not feel happy.”
Despite her misgivings, Jenny moved forward to the surgery stage of her battle. Dr. Theobald explains. “When women choose between a lumpectomy and mastectomy, my best advice is to coordinate their care between all of their treating specialists, such as surgical, medical and radiation oncology and even plastic surgery. No part of breast cancer treatment is on an island, and when we all work together, the outcomes are the best.”
Jenny would go on to have a double mastectomy as well as reconstructive surgery at INTEGRIS Lakeside Women’s Hospital. Her Breast Surgeon Oncologist, Dr. Denise Rable, was able to connect her with a breast reconstruction specialist named Dr. Nabil Habash, who used the latest advancements in DIEP flap surgery to reconstruct Jenny’s breasts after her double mastectomy. But her battle wasn’t over. Nearly nine months after her surgery, Jenny realized she was depressed.
“I have what some people would call a type A personality,” Jenny explains. “I run a small water district out of our home. I also work at the family business. We have two kids. My husband works for our local power company and is always on call. It is SO HARD for me to accept or ask for help.” But she did, reaching out to Dr. Theobald. Dr. Theobald explained that what she went through caused Jenny to experience a form of PTSD. Not only was this completely normal, Dr. Theobald helped Jenny sort out the complicated emotions that came with such a harrowing experience.
“Jenny King is the kind of breast cancer patient that I knew would do well from the start,” recalls Dr. Theobald. “She found the perfect place between fear and despair and toxic positivity. She allowed her treatment team to lead her, all the while maintaining control and choosing her path.”
“Dr. Theobald really helped me through all of it,” says Jenny. “I regretted keeping silent about it for so long.”
Dr. Theobald remembers how Jenny continued to work the whole time she was in treatment, took care of a toddler, and amazed the staff with lots of good laughs. Dr. Theobald notes Jenny has a strong marriage and family, who supported her when she was down, but when she needed a lift, Jenny “was always good about letting us know,” adding, “Jenny is very special to me.”
Herein lies the overarching message of Jenny’s story: take action and trust your family, friends, and your provider’s continuum of care to guide you through.
“I guess a good lesson from my story would be to know your body,” says Jenny. “I was 37 years old. I was not yet at the age when women are ‘supposed’ to get annual mammograms. If I had ignored my body, not followed up on things, my cancer more than likely would have metastasized, and I would not have such a great story to tell.”
“I’m not mad I had cancer,” Jenny continues. “If that is the worst thing to happen to my family, I will have lived a truly blessed life. [Through this experience] I fell in love with my husband all over again. But,” she pauses, “if I could give advice to other women fighting cancer it would be to let people help you. People want to help; it makes them feel good to have done something to help you.”
Jenny was lucky to have a support system in place and a provider like INTEGRIS Health. Nowadays, she still talks to her therapist, as well as other cancer survivors. But mostly, she’s busy living her life.
This November, start taking action against breast cancer and get a mammogram. Make an appointment today with INTEGRIS Health, Oklahoma’s most trusted health care provider.