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A nurse’s message about breast cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I am not the likely candidate for cancer.

As a Care Coordinator for Home Telehealth at the Myrtle Beach VA Outpatient Clinic, I was trying to take my own advice—the same advice I give to my patients: eat healthy, exercise, do not smoke, limit alcohol, get your rest, but I forgot one piece of advice—get annual screenings, like a mammogram. I thought wow, I left myself off that list until only recently.

There is no cancer on either side of my family, but that does not matter. I could not believe a breast cancer surgeon was looking at me after much diagnostic testing and said, “it’s Carcinoma.” I know the word because I’ve read it on hundreds of charts over a 40-year career in nursing, but never thought it would end up in my chart.

The answer to cancer is prevention. If this article can save one person the horror of the word cancer – my message is to listen to your health care team, get screened when appropriate, and for women—go get that mammogram. I have become the poster nurse for breast cancer. I ask people at the drive thru, the shoe store, the gas station, the grocery store, “Have you had your mammogram this year?” and I wear my pink shirt for breast cancer awareness.

My surgery is over now and I’m about to begin lengthy post-surgery treatment but, I now personally understand and realize that prevention is truly the key. The mammogram is simple, uncomfortable perhaps, but pain free. I wish I could say the same for this cancer.

Cancer Care at the VA

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, following lung cancer. About 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. This makes breast cancer a serious concern for women Veterans. The good news is that localized breast cancer has a 99% survival rate if detected early, and VA leads the nation’s health care systems in providing mammograms to those who need. Within the Veterans Health Administration, Women Veterans are encouraged to receive breast cancer screenings starting at age 45; women may also choose to start screening with yearly mammograms as early as age 40. If there is a family history of breast cancer or if a lump is found during an exam, screening can begin earlier.  All mammograms are performed in the community through the VA’s Community Care Program.  Initial screening, diagnostic screening and biopsy are covered through the initial consult. 

If surgery is indicated, the breast surgery team at the Ralph H. Johnson Medical Center will be consulted and work directly with the Veteran to schedule the surgery. To assist with surgery, treatment and care planning, Charleston VAMC has breast cancer navigators to guide the Veteran throughout the process. The medical center also has a Women’s Program Manager who is available for any support that a female veteran may need for the screening process and treatment following. The Women’s Program Manager at the Ralph H. Johnson VAMC can be reached at 843-789-7260.

For more information on Women Veterans Health and Breast Cancer Awareness, click here.

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