With the passing of our pink torch (or sash) Rosemary Sideboard Hughes not only shares a last name and life with her husband Al, but they now both share the honor of being our February Survivor with Al representing last year and Rosemary holding the title for 2020. Two breast cancer survivors in one household - talk about a power couple!
Rosemary was about to turn 75 with nothing but celebration on her mind, until her annual mammogram interrupted her plans.
“Instead of dressing to return home as usual, another mammogram was administered on my right breast,” she recalled. “Then an ultrasound was performed for confirmation before appointments were made for continued testing and follow-up.”
And something else had been different, too. Her mammogram was digital – not film – and Rosemary credits this updated technology for saving her life.
“My diagnosis was Stage 1 and the tumor was so minute, being 8 millimeters, that no other mammography could have detected it except the digital mammography,” she said. “It was way too small to be felt by hand. I was told by the radiologist that only this machine could have detected my tumor. So I tell everyone to always request a digital mammogram.”
To get a better idea of just how small Rosemary’s tumor was, think about a chickpea. Okay, now think even a bit smaller than that!
According to the Northern Pulse Growers Association, a nonprofit representing bean growers from Montana and North Dakota, common grown dry chickpeas in the United States average between 8.5 to 10.5 millimeters in diameter.
So with Rosemary’s tiny 8 millimeter tumor impressively detected by digital mammography, let’s discuss how.
As we know, mammograms are x-ray exams of the breast that use a machine to look specifically at breast tissue. Since the x-rays are taken at lower doses than regular x-rays, the machine uses two plates that essentially flatten the breast in order to spread the tissue apart and capture the best x-ray images through the tissue. These images can be taken and stored on film, or more often nowadays, stored on a computer.
The benefit of digital mammography is the ability to play with the image in order to better spot tumors, or abnormalities. Options to enlarge a portion of the image, lighten an area, or darken another, creates a wider net in catching a mark that otherwise may have gone unnoticed.
In many cases film mammography is still a solid screening option, but for women with dense breasts, for example, digital mammography is usually advised. Dense breasts that are comprised of fibrocystic breast tissue often appear white on images, while tumors also appear white on images. Without digital technology, it would be dangerously difficult to determine normal from abnormal tissue in these instances.
Once Rosemary's tumor was detected, she requested her Al's breast surgeon who helped save his life, and got ready to embrace her own survival.
Before surgery, additional testing included magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the breast, multiple biopsies, blood work, and an electrocardiogram (EKG).
Now ready for surgery, Rosemary underwent a lumpectomy to remove the tumor followed by breast reconstruction. Though successful, further treatment was needed including eight rounds of chemotherapy for six months followed by 25 sessions of radiation. Today Rosemary is cancer-free and on medication for the next five years while attending regular follow-up appointments with her medical team.
As a senior, fresh off a bout with breast cancer, one might think Rosemary has slowed down. Well, one would be wrong.
Rosemary’s hobbies and activities include, but are not limited to, Zumba, aerobics, yoga, book club, travel, charitable events, and our personal favorite – dancing with the NETSational Seniors – a senior hip hop group for the Brooklyn Nets.
And Rosemary is a two-time cancer survivor, crushing breast cancer in her seventies after beating cervical cancer when she was only in her twenties. In both cases, Rosemary credits early detection as key, and that together – we can beat cancer!
“Always remember that cancer is no longer the death sentence it used to be and that you are never ever alone,” she said.
Until next time, keep up with us on Instragram, and always keep your Eye on Strength!