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Early detection key to surviving breast cancer

By Staff | Oct 5, 2011

Mary Ann Loh speaks at MacKenzie Hall on Tuesday during a Breast Cancer Awareness program.

The statistics are staggering. One out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.

Another statistic, provided at the City of Sanibel’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness Month program on Tuesday, was equally stunning but far more encouraging: 98 percent of women who are diagnosed early will survive.

Mary Ann Loh, a volunteer who serves as the Education Chair for the Southwest Florida Affiliate of the Susan G. Komen For the Cure, emceed the program. A resident of Sanibel, Loh holds a master’s degree in Nursing and has spent her entire career providing health education.

“What happens a lot is people get frightened,” said Loh. “They don’t go to the doctor or get a mammogram.”

In this year alone, Loh reported that 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Having a yearly mammogram examination, starting at age 40 (or at age 35, for women with a family history of breast cancer), is also essential to early detection.

Janet Darnell, program director at Partners For Breast Cancer Care.

Janet Darnell, program director at Partners For Breast Cancer Care, also spoke during the 45-minute presentation. She shared her own personal story of survival after being diagnosed with the disease in 1998.

After seeing talk show host Rosie O’Donnell speak about the importance of mammograms, Darnell made an appointment to get one herself. Her x-ray revealed a cluster of tiny dots on her left breast, so her doctor advised her to schedule a needle biopsy of the tissue. After hearing that the procedure would cost approximately $3,000, Darnell said that it was too expensive and she wouldn’t do it.

However, her doctor’s nurse overheard her decision not to seek additional treatment and offered her the phone number for Partners For Breast Cancer Care, which provides mammograms and treatment for people without medical insurance.

“That nurse saved my life,” said Darnell. “I had my lumpectomy… and now I’m fine.”

Since the beginning of June, Partners For Breast Cancer Care has screened more than 500 women at their South Fort Myers facility. Of that total, 11 were diagnosed with breast cancer.

Also speaking was a couple, John and Joanne, who were introduced by Loh as “a breast cancer survivor and a supporting survivor.” When John asked the audience whether they knew which of them had been diagnosed with breast cancer, nobody knew for sure.

But then, John shared his story.

For almost two years, he had felt a small lump in his pectoral muscle but ignored it. However, when the lump became painful – “like somebody stabbing me with a knife” – John sought out treatment. After visiting his doctor, he learned he had tested positive for stage 3 breast cancer.

“I thought, ‘I’m a dead man. I can’t afford this,'” he recalled.

But much like Darnell’s experience, John’s nurse told him to call Partners For Breast Cancer Care. Within 15 minutes, he had an appointment to see one of their specialists.

“Here I am, four years later, doing just fine… knock wood,” John said with a smile.

According to his wife Joanne, 7,500 men died last year due to breast cancer.

“You don’t hear numbers like that in the news,” she added. “But if we can help just one man detect this cancer early enough, then our mission will not be in vain.”

Prior to the start of the City Council meeting, a proclamation was read by Mayor Kevin Ruane declaring October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your fathers and sons and mothers and daughters,” said Loh. “If you feel something, get it checked right away.”

For more information, visit www.pfbcc.org.