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The Birthday Gift



A favorite cake, a special dinner, shouts and whispers of “Happy Birthday!”…

But for Carla Hansen, chief nurse executive at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo, there’s one more piece. Since the age of 40, she has personally honored the tradition of a birthday mammogram.

“My mom was my role model,” says Carla. “She was always diligent in getting her preventive care and I am, too, including my yearly mammogram.”

For 13 years in a row, Carla’s birthday mammograms reassured her all was normal. But the 14th mammogram delivered a gift all its own.

The unexpected

Carla will never forget the excitement of March 2005. Then a leader at MeritCare Heart Services, she and her team busily prepared for the opening of the new Heart Center.

Her March 6 birthday came and went -- no mammogram.

“So much was going on that month, but still I kept reminding myself to get my mammogram,” she says. “Finally at the end of the month I got it done.”

The results stopped her in her tracks. Radiologists identified a suspicious area, prompting additional testing.

“My reaction was absolute surprise and fear. I had no family history of breast cancer,” she says. “But I also knew I was in the best place to get the care I needed.”

Early cancer, successful treatment

Within a week Carla underwent lumpectomy to remove the cancerous area. Tests during the procedure indicated the cancer had been caught early, including no cancerous cells in her lymph nodes.

“The only reason my cancer was caught that soon was a mammogram,” she says. “That’s how important it is!”

In fact mammograms -- a key tool in the early diagnosis of breast cancer -- can detect tumors well before they can be felt. They can also identify suspicious patterns of calcification that warrant a closer look.

Following lumpectomy, Carla had seven weeks of radiation therapy at Roger Maris Cancer Center. She scheduled the brief, painless treatments for the first thing every weekday morning.

“The early-morning appointment gave me time to center myself, focus on the treatment and create positive energy,” she says. “I also brought my own headset and piano music. I liked the gentle songs of faith that I knew would help me through. I listened to ‘On Eagle’s Wings’ over and over again.”

The final phase of treatment: five years of medication to ensure maximum protection from cancer recurrence.

In 2010, Carla celebrated!

“It was a celebration of survivorship,” she says. “It was also reassurance to continue to live my life as joyfully as I can. And I do that every day!”

The icing on the cake

Medically, Carla received the exact combination of treatments needed to overcome breast cancer. But she discovered there was so much more to the journey:

  • The healing power of family and friends. “I’ll never forget how each Monday my coworkers came to my home. The first thing they’d say was, ‘We’re not going to talk about work right now, we’re just going to talk about how you’re doing,’” she says. “I had such great support from all around.”
  • The beauty of living in the present. “I try to experience one day at a time and be grateful for all that’s around me,” she says. “I even have grandkids -- two more since my breast cancer diagnosis. I love teaching them things like gardening and playing piano.”
  • Hope for the future. “I feel empowered by my breast cancer experience,” says Carla. “I now believe that whatever path comes before me, I’ll be able to navigate it with the knowledge and experience that’s behind me as well as the knowledge, experience and support that is yet to come.”
  • Schedule your birthday mammogram!

    Is it time for your mammogram? Sanford follows the American Cancer Center recommendation: annual mammograms beginning at age 40. Women who are at increased risk may need to follow closer guidelines.

    Whether you dread it or embrace it, mammography gives you the best chance at detecting cancer early. And early means treatable -- often curable.

    One more gift…

    Edith Sanford Breast Cancer lifts up Carla and all whose lives have been touched by breast cancer. Learn how your gift can propel a bold new direction for breast cancer research and treatment. To end the suffering… To eliminate this disease once and for all…

    Posted Date: October 2012

    The Birthday Gift

    Carla Hansen expected her mammogram at age 53 would be normal, just like all the earlier ones. But when the unexpected happens? Today she fully appreciates the value of this lifesaving tool.