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Sun, May 19

In the Pink: Personal scare prompts reporter to be vigilant about annual mammogram screenings

Nanci Hutson gets her mammogram.
Photo by Arlene Hittle.

Nanci Hutson gets her mammogram.

PRESCOTT – First came a letter telling me I needed a repeat of my annual mammogram. The image was muddled.

No worries.

Then came the doctor’s call that second image was no better than the first. He wanted an ultrasound.

Still no worries.

Then I answer an office phone to hear doctor receptionist asking what date I want for my breast surgery.

I almost faint.

What breast surgery? What don’t I know? Do I have cancer?

Some 10 years ago, I was accidentally delivered news for which no woman is ever prepared.

As a reporter, I often talk with people about sad, even tragic, news. I just was not prepared for such a call about my life.

I fumbled through my work day awaiting word back from my doctor. He apologized for the mistaken call. He did, though, need me to schedule a breast biopsy. The mammogram and ultrasound detected a mysterious mass of cells in my left breast. His comfort was no definitive diagnosis could yet be made.

My mind raced to the worst!

Thankfully, my then Connecticut colleagues, and my steadfast husband, refused to let me go into full-out panic. They let me cry; they just did not let me succumb to despair.

I still had much to learn.

I headed to a facility in New York for the biopsy. I was so freaked out that the nurses prescribed a tranquilizer so I was able to walk through the front door.

A couple days later, the surgeon’s office called me again.

The mass appeared to be pre-cancerous cells. The surgeon recommended surgery.

The two-week wait left me little more than a zombie.

At least, I was taking action.

My husband and I talked with my then two young daughters, and they were matter-of-fact. I would be fine!

The morning of my surgery, my best friend joined my husband and me at the hospital. She somehow made me laugh.

The first thing I remember in the recovery room was patting my chest to see if I still had breasts.

The doctor’s initial diagnosis was correct. I had a mass of pre-cancerous cells he removed, along with some suspicious-looking adjoining tissue. I had a chip put in to the breast so that future mammogram technologists would know where the cells were removed. I was advised to begin an every six-month regimen of exams – the newest technology, digital tomosynthesis, was not yet available.

For five years, I was religious about those exams. I preached a message of early detection and mammogram necessity to all my friends, as well as women I might meet in the grocery store or at a band concert.

All positive results allowed me to return to annual mammograms.

I never missed one.

Until the hustle and bustle of a move from Connecticut to Arizona led me to miss my 2014 appointment.

A year later, now in Prescott Valley. I did not yet have a family physician.

The Daily Courier launched a series of articles about breast cancer and prevention efforts. One of my stories was on Yavapai Regional Medical Center’s BreastCare Center.

As I finished my interviews and tour, I stopped at the desk. I asked to arrange a mammogram. I had to get a physician referral – my doctor in Connecticut forwarded one but I later obtained a local doctor.

At that appointment, I learned that come the spring of 2016 the center was getting the latest mammogram technology, one with high-resonance, three-dimensional images that can better pinpoint the tiniest of cancers, particularly in women with dense breast tissue.

I knew I wanted this screening for my next exam.

On Monday, Sept. 26, I had just such a screening – nothing much different than the traditional exam other than it took a couple minutes longer and the image was far more vivid. The one downside: some insurances won’t pay for the upgrade. I might be charged as much as $150.

I figure I am worth it. I also want my now young adult daughters to know they need to be vigilant about their health because they are priceless.

Early detection saves lives.

“The incident rate of breast cancer is higher than it has been but death rates have dropped because of early detection,” said Center Director Nancy Ledoyen.

I got my results two days later: negative.

I implore all of you, whether you do traditional or the latest version, to get your mammograms.

Your life might just depend on it.


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