While some of our sisters pull through on their faith, others channel an unwavering determination that takes them across the finish line.
This is the case for our September survivor, Kelly McNamara.
More than 10 years ago, at the young age of 35, Kelly had a baseline mammogram without having any symptoms or lumps, and without any family history.
As defined by Imaginis - which is a great resource for women's health now in its 20th year - a baseline mammogram is the set of images used as the basis for comparison in later tests.
And from 1980 to 1991, women between age 35 and 39, were strongly advised to get such baseline mammograms to promote early detection. However, guidelines have changed and newer research suggests the exposure to radiation during a mammogram could pose a risk greater than the reward and therefore yearly mammograms should be prolonged until an older age unless the patient is high risk and it’s more necessary. We've discussed this in a previous post.
Also, early-stage breast cancers in younger women seem harder to detect through mammograms. Breastcancer.org suggests this could be because younger women tend to have denser breasts with less fatty tissue. This density makes it more difficult to spot tumors on a mammogram whereas tumors enclosed by more fatty tissue are more visible.
The American Cancer Society released new guidelines in October 2015 increasing the age to 45 to begin annual mammograms for women with an average risk. Women ages 40 to 45 are now encouraged to undergo a mammogram only if they wish (and after speaking with their doctor) and women 55 and over can go every other year instead of annually (though if they want to go annually they can). In a woman’s later years, mammograms are still recommended so long as she is in good health and expected to live another 10 years.
Mammogram guidelines weren't the only breast cancer screening recommendations to change. An even bigger change came with the removal of breast exams, both self-exams and by a medical professional, which are no longer recommended. (BTW we respectfully disagree with that, as we explained in the same post we included above and we've also discussed the importance of visual self examination in previous posts like this one.) Regardless, none of these guidelines or recommendations are the same for patients at a higher risk (i.e. family history), and also, no two women are the same anyway so despite the guidelines most organizations (and we) encourage each woman to speak to her doctor for a more personalized approach.
For Kelly, she took the radiation risk and her baseline mammogram proved to be life-saving, though it wasn’t easy.
After her diagnosis, Kelly underwent a double mastectomy followed by reconstruction, yet went head on with the disease again just 7 years later when the cancer returned. But in her second bout, being a wife and mother pushed Kelly's fighter-spirit even more into overdrive.
“It's amazing what you can endure quietly, when you have a little one. After numerous surgeries, radiation, induced menopause, pharmacological chemotherapy, cancer didn't survive me!”
We love that flip in word choice! Exactly, own it.
Outside of battling cancer, being a mom and wife, Kelly also continued to work full time as an executive director of an orphanage which gave her more fuel and inspiration to keep up her fight and totally inspires us!
"I realized there is always someone suffering more than I am. We all need help with life's challenges."
In addition to her family, friends and job, Kelly credits her love of Irish dancing as another comfort zone of support.
After her experience, Kelly encourages women to undergo mammograms and conduct self-exams.
And as we know there is some debate on how early is too early, or whether or not there is any true benefit to physical exams, we encourage you to weigh the pros and cons for yourself in combination with discussing all benefits and risks with your doctor.
For Kelly, her choice led to a discovery that saved her life and she was able to celebrate another birthday this month, so for that we are super excited and wish her the best!
See you all next time, until then keep your Eye on Strength!