‘It’s frightening’: Breast cancer survivor says her own awareness led to early detection
SOUTHPORT, NC (WWAY) — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but it’s something that doctors want people to be aware of all year. As medicine and technology evolve, doctors say they’re now able to detect breast cancer earlier and earlier.
Thanks to being aware and taking preventative measures, one Southport woman is now cancer-free.
“It’s frightening,” Sherrie Cass, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, said. “You know, you go every year, and you become accustomed to everything being okay.”
As a nurse practitioner, Cass spends a lot of time in the doctor’s office. But this time, she was the patient.
“You know, at that moment, it’s almost like everything you know goes out the window,” she said. “You know enough to be terrified.”
For years, Cass did everything she was supposed to do. When she went for her yearly mammogram in the spring of 2019, she says she got a call to come back for more testing a biopsies.
“You never really expect it to come back as anything, but unfortunately, I found out I had breast cancer,” Cass said.
She says she was diagnosed with early onset ductal carcinoma.
Wilmington Health Breast Surgeon Dr. Bradford Tyler says new technology like 3D mammography machines allow them to detect smaller or more obscure lesions earlier.
“The fact of the matter is, one in eight woman are at risk for developing breast cancer, regardless of their family history or if they have a visible or palpable abnormality,” Tyler said. “So we have to employ techniques for earlier detection, and that earlier detection leads to better outcomes.”
Cass says she didn’t actually have the BRCA, or the “Breast Cancer gene”. However, she says her grandmother had breast cancer, so she was always aware of the risk.
Tyler says they can also do less invasive biopsies and ultrasounds if a patient has an area of concern. Dr. Tyler says it’s important for patients to get yearly mammograms and also do self-checks.
“Many women say, ‘I didn’t get a mammogram, because I didn’t know what I wanted to see,” he said. “I didn’t want to find a problem. If we find a mammogram that has a very small legion, your outcome is going to be far superior to if you avoid it.”
He says you know your body best and can tell if something simply looks or feels different.
Luckily for Cass, she found her cancer in an early stage. She says she wanted to take an aggressive treatment route to make sure the cancer didn’t come back.
“For me, I elected to have a double mastectomy – one, obviously, was necessary, the other was preventive, with reconstruction,” she said. “I chose that because then I didn’t have to go through radiation.”
With the different treatment options now, Tyler says some patients may not even need surgery or chemotherapy.
He says every woman should typically start getting yearly mammograms at age 40. If someone in your family does get breast cancer, he recommends getting mammograms starting 10 years before that person’s age of diagnosis.
Tyler says self checks should start at age 25.
“Because many women age 25 to 35 just aren’t aware that there needs to be an awareness, or there could be a problem they’re not checking,” he said.
Cass says it was her mammogram that helped save her life.
“I’m very grateful for every day, and take every day as a gift,” she said.
Cass says she has been cancer-free for more than a year now. She says she still goes back for regular visits with the doctor every six months, but is doing very well.
Even during the pandemic, Tyler urges both men and women to keep coming in for regular mammograms and other preventative tests or visits.