MOLINE, Ill. — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
A Quad Cities native delayed getting her mammogram, in part due to the pandemic, only to find out she had fast moving version of breast cancer. Now she's sharing her story in hopes other women will get their mammogram scheduled right away.
In March 2020, hospital systems nationwide began closing their doors to elective medical procedures and screenings. This included breast cancer screenings and now those impacts are being felt in three areas:
"I kept putting it off and I thought, I can skip a year... I don't have any family history, I don't have a lump, I'm fit, I do yoga, cancer will never happen to me." Those were the thoughts running through Lisa Campbell of Bettendorf, Iowa's mind. Lisa says she always got her annual mammogram. When COVID-19 forced hospitals to put a stop to screenings, it became easier for her to put it off.
But then something happened. "Something told me, do not put it off. I mean it was in the midst of COVID. I had to actually make a couple of phone calls to actually get it done," Lisa said.
When Lisa got the results of her first mammogram, she said, doctors wanted to do another. That's when she learned, "I had DCIS, which is Breast Cancer."
Like many of those who are diagnosed with Breast Cancer Lisa battled with the "How could it happen to me?" mentality.
It was when her doctor explained that one in eight women will get the diagnosis of Breast Cancer in their lifetime when she realized she had made the right choice to get screened.
After working with a team of doctors on next steps they came to the conclusion that Lisa would need to have a Mastectomy. Lisa was heartbroken, "I had just gotten married," she said. "Now I'm going to have a bilateral mastectomy and I'm going to be completely different. "
Lisa described the moment that she was leaving the hospital with her husband as she was overcome with emotion of the news of the diagnosis and double mastectomy.
"We were leaving and I had just got the news that I was going to, that they wanted me to have a mastectomy and I looked at him and I'm like, 'I am so sorry, I'm sorry, we just got married...' And he looked at me and said, 'never say that again.' And it meant the world to me."
Lisa is now one year cancer free. Every year for the next five years Lisa will go to the hospital on the anniversary of hearing the news that she's cancer free to be checked. Her message is clear.
"Don't put off your health screenings. Don't put off your mammogram. Not for a year, not for 6 months. It can happen to you, it happened to me," Lisa said.
Doctor Oguzhan Alagoz, a professor who focuses on infection disease and cancer research with the University of Wisconsin Madison looked at the effects COVID would have on Breast Cancer.
Dr. Alagoz and his team worked along side other researchers with Georgetown University, Albert Einstein Medical College in Washington D.C. and Dona Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts. Their work originally looked at the possible surge of cancer deaths due to the shutting down of screenings.
The results from the four institutions and their team of researchers found that our country can expect about 2,487 more deaths of breast cancer because of the delays in screenings, diagnosis and ultimately treatment.
In his presentation Dr. Alagoz says, "Disruptions in screening and delays in diagnosis are estimated to be responsible for 90% of the cumulative excess deaths."
The mortality impact because of COVID-19 on Breast Cancer was fortunately smaller than originally expected.
"We were very worried that there were many more breast cancer deaths due to the pandemic." said Dr. Alagoz, but their team also found, "The number of additional deaths were 4 times higher if these women decided to skip their mammogram altogether."
Appointments for free and low-cost mammograms can be made by calling UnityPoint Health at (309) 779-5870.