‘You never think it’s going to be you’
10/29/2013 - The Exponent Telegram. By Roger Adkins.
No one is more aware of the need for yearly mammograms than Tracey Lawrence.
Lawrence is a registered mammographer at United Hospital Center in Bridgeport. She also is a breast cancer survivor.
Lawrence has worked at UHC for the past 25 years. At least 15 of those years have been spent giving mammograms. She also helps perform stereostatic biopsies in the mammography department.
In May 2012, Lawrence had her regular yearly mammogram. Her good friend, co-worker and former classmate, Kim Canfield, was the registered mammographer who administered the mammogram.
“It all happened so fast,” Lawrence said.
Canfield was the first one to see the results of the mammogram, which showed an abnormality.
“My heart just dropped,” Canfield said.
Lawrence said she underwent a stereostatic biopsy, a procedure she has helped administer herself for years. The results showed she had Ductal Carcinoma in Situ of the Breast (DCIS). She found her friends and co-workers giving her the same comfort she has given to many patients.
“We told her the same thing we tell our other patients, except she already knew. We told her to remember what she would tell her patients in this situation,” Canfield said.
There may be no such thing as a good breast cancer diagnosis. But if there was, DCIS would be the best, Lawrence said.
“I always tell patients that if you’re going to have breast cancer, it’s the best kind to have because it means it’s been detected early. It was still different when it happened to me,” Lawrence said. “I was shocked like anyone would be, and this is what I do for a living.”
Dr. Carl Fischer performed the biopsy. He, too, reminded Lawrence she was fortunate.
“He told me, ‘you know what this is, so you know the prognosis is good,’” Lawrence said.
Lawrence underwent six weeks of radiation treatment, totaling 30 treatments in all. She did not require chemotherapy. Lawrence said she was fortunate that she responded well to the radiation treatments.
“I did fine. I came to work, had my treatment and then I worked,” she said.
Lawrence had a great deal of support from her husband, Randy, as well as her daughters, Kelsey and Karley. Kelsey is a nurse at Ruby Memorial Hospital, and Karley is working on a degree in speech pathology at West Virginia University.
“I don’t know how I would have gotten through it without my husband and my kids,” she said.
Randy works for the federal government. He said despite knowing that his wife’s career revolves around breast cancer, the initial news was heart-stopping. He said he is grateful for the early detection.
“When you hear the word cancer, that your wife has cancer, it’s just devastating. The irony of it is that’s what she does for a living. Once you get over the initial shock and the diagnosis, we knew that her doing what she does was key to early detection. If there hadn’t been early detection, who knows what stage the cancer would have been in? I always tell her she’s the poster child for breast cancer,” Randy said.
Telling Kelsey and Karley was difficult, Randy said. However, because of their mom’s experience, they now realize the importance of yearly mammograms.
“You sit them down and you go through it. In her profession, you go through every angle of it, so she just reassured them this was going to be taken care of. That also sets the example for them later in life when they’re that age. That’s what they have to do,” Randy said.
Lawrence said if she had delayed her mammogram, things could’ve turned out much differently. She said she has no history of breast cancer in her family.
“If I had waited another year, it could have been invasive. I’m the perfect example of early detection,” she said. “One in eight women get breast cancer, but you never think it’s going to be you.”
Lawrence was a strong advocate for yearly mammograms even before her own diagnosis. Now that one saved her life, she is even more adamant about getting women to come in for examinations. While self-examinations are important, there are forms of breast cancer that cannot be discovered by that method alone.
“The only way we would have found mine was by having a mammogram. I wouldn’t have felt mine,” Lawrence said.
Skipping yearly mammograms is never a good idea, Canfield said.
“I have seen women skip several mammograms. It breaks your heart when you find something in a woman’s breast that is larger than it needs to be,” she said. “What’s 15 or 20 minutes of your day to save your life?”