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Preparing for a different battle

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Gwendalyn Smith
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Cathy Curry, wife of the 375th Medical Group Commander Col. Douglas Curry, is no stranger to the importance of getting a yearly mammogram. At 45 and considered low-risk, Curry was diagnosed with breast cancer on Dec. 3, 2015, exactly a month after abnormal calcifications were first detected via her yearly exam.

“I just never thought it would happen to me,” said Curry. “I was in shock. I have no family history and there were no lumps at all. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I’m young ... I felt like I did all the right things. I got the screenings, and I’m relatively healthy.”

Because of her mammogram, doctors were able to diagnose Curry in a very early stage.

“I was diagnosed with non-invasive, ductal cell carcinoma in stage 0,” said Curry. “Although I required a mastectomy of my left breast, I was lucky it was found so soon and that I didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation. It is still difficult, even now, but I have the love and support of my husband and my kids, and I have a lot to live for.”

The size and width of the cancer are two of the largest key factors in predicting a prognosis. Breast cancer found during a screening is more likely to be small and still confined in the breast tissue.

According to the American Cancer Society, one in eight women will be affected by breast cancer. In 2015, around 231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed among U.S. women.

The goal of a breast exam and screenings is to find cancer before it causes symptoms. Regular mammograms often help find cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most likely to be successful and much less aggressive.

“Breast cancer is one of those things that, in most cases, it’s highly treatable if caught early,” said Lydia Rodriguez, 375th Medical Group women’s health nurse practitioner. “We do the routine screenings so we are able to catch it early before it becomes a problem.

“Mammograms can catch things before you have any signs or symptoms,” she said.

Women ages 40 to 44 have the choice to start annual breast cancer screenings if they wish to do so. Women who are 45 to 54 years old are recommended to get a mammogram every year; others who are 55 and older are advised to switch to mammograms every two years with an advised annual screening. For women who are under the age of 40, screenings are available however, routine self-exams are the recommendation for those at low risk.

A mammogram can find breast changes that could otherwise take years to notice.

“In 2014 my films showed nothing abnormal, my films from last year showed an area of abnormal calcifications that spanned approximately 5cm, which is huge,” said Curry. “If I had skipped my exam last year just because I was busy, who knows what it could have turned out to be or how far it would have progressed. It’s just so important to get the exam done.”

Rodriguez said many women don’t get the exam done because they feel it is uncomfortable.

“Even if it’s less likely to be cancer, if you notice something you should still come in,” said Rodriguez.

“The anxiety and the worry it can cause you is much worse than the exam," she said. "It’s not the most comfortable procedure, but it’s not the worst. It’s mostly just awkward. Being awkward and uncomfortable is not necessarily the same thing as being in pain and isn’t something that should keep you away from doing your preventative health screenings.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. Even though most people are aware of breast cancer, many forget to take the steps that can detect the disease in its early stages and encourage others to do the same.

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