By Jessica Sly, Communications Specialist
One year. That’s how long Ann Immonen has been on her breast cancer journey. It taught her much about her own strength and the strength of family and friends. It also taught her that early detection is key to breast cancer survival.
Late in October 2016, Ann went in for her annual mammogram, utilizing the new 3-D technology at TCHC. Just a year earlier, she had been cleared with a normal mammogram. This one, however, revealed concerning lumps that doctors determined needed further investigation.
Following a diagnostic ultrasound on Oct. 31 and needle-guided biopsy on Nov. 9, the diagnosis came back positive. She had breast cancer.
“Maybe because of my health care background, I really never cried about my diagnosis,” she said. “I was just thankful for the early detection because they have come a long way with breast cancer treatment.”
Then came a choice: to undergo a mastectomy or not. The knowledge of her medical history helped her decide. When Ann’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she chose a single mastectomy but experienced recurrence in her other breast. So Ann opted for a bilateral mastectomy.
Chemotherapy began the first week of January. Because of debilitating side effects – nausea, fatigue, hair loss – Ann was unable to work, but she is grateful for the amazing cancer care program at TCHC, which allowed her to receive chemo right in her hometown of Wadena.
Though wigs were an option, she chose instead to sport a fantastic array of hats and made sure to be open with her family about the changes.
“I was never uncomfortable not having hair. I loved hats and I wore them well, but I felt I needed to tell my grandchildren,” she said. “One of my grandsons told his mom, ‘Grandma took some medicine, and her hair popped out!’
“That’s what you do this for at this age,” she added. “You do it for your children and your grandchildren. They were amazing.”
Radiation started in May and continued through June, again causing more side effects. Finally, two weeks after the 25-day radiation treatment, Ann returned to work.
“It was amazing to be back around people again,” she said. “And I have gotten stronger and stronger and stronger.”
She will continue chemotherapy every three weeks through December, but the aggressive part of the medication is over, meaning her energy and her hair have returned.
Ann credits the support of her family, friends, church members and coworkers with keeping her spirits high.
“Faith, family and friends with a positive attitude can get you through anything,” Ann said. “That’s my motto.”
As she reflects on the past year and looks forward to the end of treatment, Ann’s message to other women is that screenings matter.
“The biggest thing is early detection,” she said. “It’s amazing how when you sit at a table with maybe six ladies, three have had biopsies and two of us were positive. It happens to people every day, but the biggest thing I can say is early detection.”
About Ann: Ann Immonen and her husband, Eldon, live in Wadena and have two daughters and two grandchildren. She began working at Tri-County Hospital 39 years ago as an LPN. Over the years, she has worn different hats within Tri-County. Following a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis about five years ago, she transitioned to a part-time float nurse position in the Wadena Clinic.