Ann’s breast cancer journey: early detection is key

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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.

A picture of Ann with her Coworkers

Ann and her TCHC co-workers.

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!’

Breast Cancer - Ann Ringing Bell

Ann ringing the bell after treatment.

“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.”

 

Ann with her Family at the Relay for Life.

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.


Two New Tools in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

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By: Shannon Brauch, RN, TCHC Breast Navigator

3D Mammography

ret9992-4x6When it comes to breast health, every woman deserves the very best care possible. With the addition of 3D Mammography and Minimally Invasive Breast Biopsies at Tri-County Health Care, that is exactly what they will get.

A revolutionary tool in the early detection of breast cancer, 3D Mammography is the new standard in breast cancer screening today, with Tri-County’s new Genius 3D technology providing a 41% increase in the detection of invasive breast cancers compared to 2D alone, as well as up to a 40% reduction in anxiety producing false-positive recalls. The result is greater accuracy in diagnosis and ideally, reduced stress on the patient.

Who should have a Mammogram?

It’s recommended that all women 40 years of age and older receive an annual mammogram.

With 3D mammography, do I still need an annual screening?

Yes. All women are at risk for breast cancer, regardless of symptoms or family history. Mammograms often can detect potential problems before they can be felt. Early detection greatly increases treatment options and the likelihood of successful recovery.

Is 3D Mammography safe?

3D mammography is quite safe. Radiation exposure to the breast is very low. In fact, the radiation dose for a combined 2D/3D mammography exam is well below the acceptable limits defined by the FDA, and is only a fraction of the level of radiation you receive from natural sources.

Minimally Invasive Breast Biopsiesret9856-4x6

One of the only systems in the immediate region to offer minimally invasive breast biopsies, Tri-County Health Care is committed to providing female patients with care and technology required for the early detection and treatment of breast cancer.

A minimally invasive breast biopsy (or Stereotactic Breast Biopsy) is a procedure that uses mammography to precisely identify and biopsy an abnormality within the breast. It is normally done when the radiologist sees a suspicious abnormality on a mammogram that can’t be felt in a physical exam. This procedure will help determine whether or not you have breast cancer or any other concerning abnormalities in your breast.

Utilizing 3D Mammography as a guide, stereotactic breast biopsies use mammographic images to locate and target the area of concern and to help guide the biopsy needle to a precise location. This technique helps ensure the area that is biopsied is the exact area where the abnormality was seen on the mammogram.

Benefits of Minimally Invasive Breast Biopsies

A stereotactic breast biopsy is less invasive than a surgical biopsy, requires less recovery time and causes minimal scaring. Women who undergo the procedure can be in and out of the hospital the same day and able to sleep in their own bed that night.

Why is a Minimally Invasive Breast Biopsy Performed?

A breast biopsy is typically done if your doctor becomes concerned following a mammogram or breast ultrasound. It is used to investigate irregularities (such as a lump) in the breast.

Shannon Brauch, RN

Shannon Brauch, RN

About the Author: Shannon Brauch, RN, is the TCHC Breast Navigator. In her role she paves the path for women with breast health concerns and helps patients and their families navigate through the health care system. To learn more click here: http://www.tchc.org/what-we-offer/womens-health.

 

 

*Article was originally printed in Healthy Times Summer 2016.