BY DARA KURTZ
It’s been almost ten years since Sally Shore heard the words “You have breast cancer.” At the time, she was forty-five and busy with her family, community involvement and volunteer work. She found the lump herself and a few days later a mammogram confirmed it was breast cancer. Luckily, she found it early and had a very positive prognosis. “Death wasn’t an option,” she explains, “We felt blessed that I found it early.” She remembers her doctor coming over to her house, meeting with her and her husband, Ricky, and saying, “You will live to see your grandchildren.”
She held on to these words, and they carried her through her treatment of surgery, chemotherapy, and reconstruction. She remembers an incredible support system and how her family and faith gave her much inspiration and hope.
According to Sharon Gentry, Breast Nurse Navigator at Novant Health, in 2016 there will be approximately ten thousand women and men diagnosed with breast cancer in North Carolina, and Forsyth County will have 350 of those cases. This number has increased from five years ago due to the aging Baby Boomer population – most cases are found in women age 55 and older, with a median age of 62.
Medicine has come a long way in the thirty-four years Gentry has worked in Oncology. Survival rates are very high for breast cancer, especially if it’s caught in the early stages.
Since mammograms are consistently the best way to catch breast cancer in the early stages, education is key. Gentry noted that the local Susan G. Komen chapter consistently gives grants to provide mobile mammograms in under and uninsured communities. “This raises awareness in higher risk communities,” Gentry said, “Women can get mammograms in their community and then when they come back for their annual mammogram, they bring a friend or relative. This education and availability are making a big difference.”
Fortunately, there are many tools when it comes to treating breast cancer. Tamoxifen and other drugs are very effective for estrogen positive hormone therapy. Herceptin, a targeted therapy, has proven to be very effective for women diagnosed with Her2 positive breast cancer, and there are more targeted therapies than ever before.
For any woman going through treatment, the side effects can be managed much better today than in the past. “Women can take chemotherapy and continue to work if they choose,” Gentry said.
Additionally, genetic testing is proving to help at-risk women learn if they have a genetic predisposition for breast cancer, and research continues to discover more and more ways to save lives.
There are thousands of women who have been through breast cancer in our community and Keela Johnson, Publisher of Forsyth Woman, is one of them. “Cancer is many things,” she says, “but timely is not one of them. In my case, it couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. I was a busy wife and mother of two, and entrepreneur.”
Her breast cancer diagnosis was made in June 2007, less than two years after she debuted Forsyth Woman to the community. She had a double mastectomy, rather than chemotherapy or radiation. While it was an extreme treatment option, she was thankful that all of her cancer cells could be removed through surgery. Once she recovered, she jumped back into the swing of things.
Fortunately, like Shore, she’s been cancer-free for almost ten years. “I do occasionally wonder if God had a purpose in my diagnosis. Forsyth Woman has served as a vehicle to promote breast cancer health awareness many times in the last decade. I’m not sure we would have dedicated so much to the topic if it wasn’t one that was personal to me. I’m hopeful that other women have benefited through my experiences, the information we’ve published, and stories we’ve shared. If they have helped in any small way, then my own experience was worth it,” Johnson said.
Both individuals show how blessed we are to have the treatments available to us today, and serve as inspiration for women who have been diagnosed after them. They show how a person can get a breast cancer diagnosis, deal with it and move on with her life.
Today Shore spends her time visiting family, volunteering in the community and at her church while working for her husband at their company, Aladdin Travel. Recently, the words spoken by Shore’s doctor came true. She became a grandmother, and it was a full circle moment for her. “When I was going through my treatment, what I held on to was my faith, my husband, my family and the thought of having grandchildren.” Congratulations on this wonderful moment and for providing many women who are currently going through treatment for breast cancer much hope!