SURVIVOR STORIES

JANICE LEAF

In 2013, at the age of 60, Janice Leaf considered herself healthy. She exercised regularly, ate well, and went in for annual checkups. It seemed she was doing everything right. except she wasn’t. “I had always been a little freaked out by mammograms,” she said.

Conflicting reports from the media and other sources left her confused about the safety and eff ectiveness of mammograms. although she understood the importance of the exam—especially with her family’s history of breast cancer—she had not received a mammogram in three years. Instead, she went to a naturopathic provider for thermal imaging, which, in theory, detects abnormal heat in the breast that can sometimes indicate cancer.

“One year the thermography showed that my left breast was hot. I went back a year later, and the exam was abnormal again,” she said.

Janice knew she should make an appointment for a mammogram, but life as a grandmother, mom, wife and staff member at a local school district was busy, so she delayed the task. Then she received a call that would change her life.

“Inland Imaging called because they noticed I hadn’t been in for a mammogram in a while, and they asked if I wanted to schedule one, so I did,” she said. “I was so impressed. That call made me feel like they really cared about me.”

Janice’s mammogram detected a lump in her right breast, not in her left, as the thermography had initially indicated. It was cancer. She immediately received a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, followed later by a mastectomy for peace of mind. Fortunately, the cancer did not spread to her lymph nodes, and she recovered quickly.

“Because they caught and removed the cancer so soon, I didn’t have to have chemo, which would have meant a longer recovery and put another whole dark cloud over our home and family.

“Had Inland Imaging not called me, I don’t know if I would have scheduled the mammogram for a while, and I think my story might have turned out much differently,” she continued. “I am over-the-top thankful that they made that call.”

This March, Janice celebrated her 62nd birthday and her one-year anniversary of living cancer-free. Now an advocate for regular mammograms, Janice urges her friends and loved ones—including her two grown daughters—to make their health a priority.

JEN PARISH

Jen Parish often wonders what got her in the car that November night last year. The busy mother of four had just returned home from a business trip and was caring for a sick daughter. Prepped in yoga pants for a quiet evening in, she was ready to blow off that night's pre-scheduled gathering with friends at a mammogram party.

But something kept tugging at her to get in her car and go.

"I wasn't sure what a mammogram party was, but I just felt like I should go...maybe it was my sweet tooth? The invite had promised cupcakes and massages," joked the Colbert resident. "I arrived very late," she continued. "Everything was closing up ... the equipment had been wiped down and the technicians were ready to leave. But they nicely opened everything back up so I could get the screening."

Jen, 41 at the time, had received a baseline mammogram a few years prior. She planned to get another screening the following August. But as it turned out, that would have been too late. The mammogram detected something.

"They asked me to come in so they could get a better look," she said. "I still didn't think anything of it."

After more imaging and a biopsy, Jen got a call. Her doctor told her she had aggressive stage Ill breast cancer: invasive ductal carcinoma.

"They were words I had never heard before," she said. "It was an out-of-body experience."

Two days before Christmas, Jen began 16 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction in April. She commends the staff at Inland Imaging for the exceptional care she received along the way.

"Inland Imaging was my first point of contact during a very worrisome experience," she said. "They handled everything with such grace ... they were so calm and reassuring and put me at ease during a very scary time. They are so good at what they do."

Jen is now cancer-free and growing stronger in her recovery. She sometimes thinks about that November night and what might have been.

"Had I waited until August to get a mammogram, the cancer would have spread," she said. "I'm so grateful that the ladies with Inland Imaging screened me that night at the mammogram party, even though I was late. They did it without hesitation ... ! owe so much to them."

She hopes her story inspires other young women to put their health first.

"I'm the first of my group of friends to go through something like this," she said. "I hound everyone I know to get screened, and I'm very outspoken about it on social media. I didn't take mammograms as seriously as I should have. It's such a simple thing that can have such a huge impact on your overall health."

Brenda

Profession: Elementary Physical Education Teacher
Hobby: Bird Watching, Hiking/Taking Walks, Reading
Kids: 2 Step daughters/4 grandchildren
Age of diagnosis: 52

How has breast cancer affected your life?

My awareness of the impact of this disease certainly has been heightened. In spite of having several friends go through the breast cancer experience and one of those friends dying from her breast cancer, I still had the attitude “oh it won’t happen to me”. I know differently now. I find that I don’t take things for granted as much (especially my own personal health.)

How did the medical community help you during that time for your life?

It was because I have had yearly mammograms since I was 40 that my breast cancer was detected. My 2008 exam was clean, my 2009 exam showed something of concern. In the time frame of just one year things had changed. When I was called back for a second mammogram because something looked suspicious I was scared.

I have only had positive experiences when using Inland Imaging for my yearly mammograms. When I needed to come back for further diagnostic work, I was treated professionally yet always with kindness and compassion and reassurance.

More importantly my (our) questions were answered straight forward. Procedures (tissue biopsy etc.)were explained thoroughly: what they were doing, how it would feel, always asking me how I was doing and providing encouragement and support; from Dr. Balmforth who detected the mass on the first mammogram to Rosie prepping me for the tissue biopsy to Dr. Gin talking me through the biopsy.

Once I knew what I was dealing with we set out a game plan and we worked that plan, with the best team of doctors. (CCNW)

In spite of the trauma of this life threatening disease, I never once lost confidence in my doctors and other health care workers who helped me thought it. After the initial shock of discovery- I never lost confidence in myself that I wouldn’t survive!

How did you stay motivated during your treatment?

My husband was in my corner 24/7 during my ordeal and his love and support were the biggest motivators for me to get through this, get better and get on with our lives! I was determined to keep upbeat. Keep my sense of humor and look for the good in everyday.

My friend that died from breast cancer lived everyday of her life to the fullest and gave of herself endlessly - I keep (kept) her spirit in my heart through my treatments and treasure it now.

What has life been like since you became cancer free?

I think I am a little more reflective now. It’s not so much a sense of urgency but rather a “ don’t want to take life for granted,” attitude change. I can do everything I did before my cancer and am grateful and thankful for that opportunity.

What did you think when you heard that only half of Spokane women were having their annual screening mammogram?

My first thoughts of learning this, was, “that just can’t be.” But then I would hear from so many women – things like “Oh I haven’t had a mgram for several years,” or it’s been a while or’ “it’s so uncomfortable”–Just such a cavalier ho hum attitude.

I figure it was the 40 minutes--- Including parking and elevator time that I took that saved my life. We caught my cancer when it was small and early—it hadn’t gotten to my lymph nodes. Wouldn’t you rather find out earlier than later if you had a problem? Would you rather put up with a few minutes of being “uncomfortable” or go through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Better still find out that your okay for this year and go out and celebrate!

Kellie

Profession: Recovery Nurse
Age of diagnosis: 43

How has breast cancer affected your life?

It made me appreciate and love all the important people that count on me.

How did the medical community help you during that time for your life?

As I work in the medical profession I sometimes take for granted all the great medical professionals in our community that help make a difference every day. The people at Inland Imaging and Cancer Care Northwest helped save my life and helped through the process.

How did you stay motivated during your treatment?

My family and husband were more fearful than I was when I received the news of my diagnosis. It made me understand how much they need and love me. It made me want to fight hard. Breast cancer did not just impact me, but also the people that love me.

What has life been like since you became cancer free?

I am so inspired by other survivors. I am always motivated by each person’s story. I now live every day with purpose and love it.

What did you think when you heard that only half of Spokane women were having their annual screening mammogram?

I was shocked to hear only half of Spokane women have an annual screening exam. If it were not for my annual screening, my breast cancer at age 43 would not have been found. Who knows where I would be without it. Women must take control of their health.

Muriel

Profession: Legal Coordinator
Hobby: Gardening
Kids: Son/Daughter/3 Grandkids
Age of diagnosis: 58

How has breast cancer affected your life?

I try to use my time more efficiently and not worry about the small stuff.

How did the medical community help you during that time for your life?

The physicians, nurses, and technicians were helpful in explaining everything and being available when I needed them after the procedures.

How did you stay motivated during your treatment?

I was surrounded by very positive and encouraging people - family, friends, medical staff - this is crucial. I am fortunate, because my breast cancer was caught early, my treatment was less difficult and shorter than it might have been.

What has life been like since you became cancer free?

Less stressful and a little slower. I'm trying to take care of myself a better: diet, exercise, less stress.

What did you think when you heard that only half of Spokane women were having their annual screening mammogram?

Some women are scared and put it off not wanting to know - afraid it's painful - others can't afford it and don't know who to contact to get the financial aid - others think it's not going to happen to them - there are many reasons. My mother had breast cancer in her early 60s. Because of this, when I was in my early forties, I requested a mammogram and was told by my insurance company that I was too young and did not fall into their guidelines for a mammogram so they would not pay for it. I had it and paid for it myself. I think some women might hear "too young" and decided the insurance company must know what they are talking about especially if they are afraid.

What would you do to encourage women to get a screening mammogram?

Put more information on the web, TV, radio, etc., show women of all ages who have survived breast cancer - this has been very helpful to me - helps to know the survival rate for this cancer continues to go up especially with early detection and some of the treatments aren't too bad. I was told at an early age that mammograms were painful and I still hear this. I tell women my experience - not painful and well worth the effort.

Carol

Profession: Dental Assistant
Hobby: Marathon Runner
Age of diagnosis: 47

How has breast cancer affected your life?

It has made me appreciate every friend and person in my life!

How did the medical community help you during that time for your life?

They saved my life by finding my cancer in my mammogram! I owe my life to Dr Davis and Dr. Bailey for finding it early!

How did you stay motivated during your treatment?

My friends were my support and I had the goal of running my 235th marathon just 9 weeks post surgery, so that was my goal from the day of surgery, to be back running my comeback marathon in just nine weeks! I did it!

What has life been like since you became cancer free?

I am alive and I cannot wait to live the rest of my life! I am inspiring both runners and breast cancer survivors to live life!

What did you think when you heard that only half of Spokane women were having their annual screening mammogram?

This has got to change, I will personally see that every woman can.

LORI & GINA

Lori’s Story: My name is Lori, and several years ago I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Upon being diagnosed with Breast Cancer I had undergone surgery and then chemotherapy and have been in remission for more than six years.

stayed motivated during my treatment by looking at my daughters and feeling like I needed to be optimistic and positive for them. I really was able to put a smile on my face even when that was all I could accomplish for the day.

Only half of the women in Spokane are getting mammograms and that is something I see a lot of. I think that women are not in tuned to their own health, don’t think it will happen to them, or don’t make their health a priority.

I would give women the advice that the time they spend now for their mammogram is going to be absolutely irreplaceable time later on. If you look at it that way, you can’t make any excuses. Gina’s Story: When I was ten years old my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I first found out that she had breast cancer I was scared of all the unknowns. And cancer is a pretty scary word to a ten year old.

When my mom was going through treatment, life was really different because it was like a member of our family wasn’t part of daily life anymore. When she was sick in bed I would try to take her place by cooking in the kitchen to provide for the family. Cooking was an outlet for me to express my fears for my mom in a positive way that I thought would help her.

Because my mom got her annual breast exam, it’s been several years and she’s still here.

LISA

Growing up, I knew that we had a history of breast cancer on both sides of my family. I had some doctors tell me that I really didn’t need to worry about my Dad’s side since, “Breast cancer can’t be passed down through the father’s genes”.

I asked for mammograms starting in my mid 20’s but was turned down and told that I should wait until after I had my first child. Again, I was told not to worry about my Dad’s side. But my father’s mother died at the age of 37 from breast cancer, and both of his sisters had breast cancer in their mid to late 20’s. One of them died from it at age 29 and the other had a mastectomy and survived.

Last year at the age of 41 I had my yearly mammogram. This time I was called back in for some magnified images of calcification they had noticed. I was told to come back in six months. I did so, and nothing much seemed to have changed. So I was told to come back again in six months for my usual yearly exam and if all looked good we would go back to the “once-a year” routine.

I was having some issues with my insurance, so I almost didn’t schedule my yearly mammogram. Then Inland Imaging called me — thank you Inland Imaging for being persistent with me!

This time Dr. Arnett examined the images and sat me down for a conversation. He told me he wanted to send me in for a biopsy. He said that if it was anything at all that at this point I shouldn’t be too alarmed since there are many things that can be done and we probably would be catching it at a very early stage. I appreciated this encouragement tremendously. He emotionally prepared me for the first step of my journey.

I was scheduled for my biopsy on a Monday. But the preceding Friday I received a notice regarding my insurance again. In a panic, I called Inland Imaging to see if I should postpone my biopsy. Instead, the scheduler gave me some options and some phone numbers to call for programs that could possibly help me. The first number I called qualified me. My exam and biopsy would be covered. So once again, Inland Imaging stepped in and kept the ball rolling forward for me.

That Monday I went in for my biopsy and the next day I received a phone call from my Primary Care Physician – it was cancer! And yes, they had caught it very early and that was very good news!

I was then sent on to the wonderful people at Cancer Care Northwest. After evaluating my family history and all the treatment options, it was decided that a bilateral mastectomy would be the best course of action for me. There were too many indicators of a genetic component — on my Dad’s side of the family!

As we went through the process of consultations and examinations, an order was placed for genetic testing to be done. I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene. Now, my family history made sense! My chances of having breast cancer were anywhere from 60-87% with BRCA1.

Because of the people who work at Inland Imaging who care deeply for those they encounter each day, I was found! I’m not so sure I would have been diagnosed so early on if it hadn’t been for their persistence and support. Because of them, my children will not have to go through what my father experienced at the age of 14 when he lost his mother to breast cancer.

And so now you know why it is with deep emotion and appreciation that I say, “Thank you, Inland Imaging for making a difference in my life!”

RESOURCES

Most major insurances will cover a screening mammogram. However, not every one is fortunate enough to have coverage. There are several national and local resources available to women who may need financial help in order to have a annual screening mammogram.

Breast and Cervical Health Program
509-324-1553
www.srhd.org

CHAS
509-444-8888
CHAS Health

Every Woman Can
Tara McAloon, Director of Community Outreach
tara@everywomancan.run
509-202-0830

American Cancer Society
509-455-3440
www.cancer.org

Mammography Saves Lives
www.mammographysaveslives.org

The Cord Blood Center
Cord blood banking has been used to treat over 80 diseases including leukemia and lymphoma. More awareness can help save the lives of children and adults suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
www.cordbloodbanking.com

Find an Inland Imaging Mammography Location.