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Breast cancer screening changes employee's life

Breast cancer screening changes employee's life

Vicki Brown was just 41 when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She’d had a baseline mammogram done at age 39 and had gone in for a routine follow up mammogram a couple of years later. That second mammogram showed some suspicious cells in one breast and a needle biopsy confirmed cancer.

A mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation were required to fight the deadly disease.

“It was very scary,” Vicki said. “It was a shock. When you hear the word cancer, you only think of the worst possible outcome. The doctor told my husband I only had four years to live. I took a day at a time because otherwise, it’s very overwhelming.”

That fight was more than 20 years ago, but her breast cancer experience is never far from her. She is among the one in eight American women who get diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. For Vicki there was little to no warning that cancer was growing in her body, just some itching around her areola. Today she’s is quick to encourage other women to be proactive about any symptoms they may be experiencing and to get routine checkups.

For many women, regular breast self-exams and annual check-ups with their doctors have been lifesavers. The American Cancer Society recommends starting mammography screening at age 45, while other professionals recommend 50. But for women with a family history of breast cancer, 40 is recommended for initial screening.

Ultimately, more than 300,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Vicki’s battle not only caused her to appreciate every day more, but it also gave her a new direction.

Just a few years after successfully beating cancer, Vicki was laid off from her job working in a Missouri jeans factory and was given the opportunity to go back to college. There Vicki decided she wanted to help others in the medical field, so she completed a degree in radiology.

“I had been through quite a bit with breast cancer and I thought the medical field would be good for me,” Vicki said.

Just after completing the degree, she moved to Gillette where she has worked at Campbell County Health for the past 10 years, and prior to that for Powder River Orthopedics and Spine (PROS) before they became a Campbell County Medical Group entity in 2012.

Vicki believes in many ways having cancer makes her a better radiology technologist and more understanding of her patient’s experiences.

“I’ve been there,” Vicki said. “I’m more attuned to what they’re going through. It’s given me more compassion.”

Both personally and professionally, Vicki says her life has been impacted by having breast cancer and not just negatively, although it was a very difficult time for her and her family.

“It changed me,” Vicki said. “I look at life differently. I’ve done a lot of things I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Today Vicki rides a motorcycle and stays active with her husband. She served as president of the Wyoming Society of Radiologic Technologists and is more apt to challenge herself and take on new things.

“I’ve tried to inspire other people through my experience. I look forward to each and every day I have and I try to make it a blessing to somebody. I appreciate every moment I have,” Vicki said.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout this month, the Campbell County Memorial Hospital Radiology department is offering Saturday hours for mammography appointments. Learn more about Radiology at www.cchwyo.org/mammo.

You can learn more about cancer treatment options available in Gillette at the Heptner Cancer Center by calling 307-688-1950 or visiting www.cchwyo.org/cancercare.

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Article written by Kim Phagan-Hansel, Wyoming freelance writer