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Voice of Victory

Terri Ferragut pounds her fist on the picnic table, but not in anger.

“This is how determined I was,” says the Fargo woman. “When I learned I had breast cancer, my first thought was ‘Okay, but I’m not going to quit running.’ And I never had to.“

The reason? Her breast cancer was detected at an early, very treatable stage. Diagnosed at Breast Health Services in Fargo, she had a lumpectomy in early December followed by five weeks of daily radiation therapy at Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center. By February 2011, her successful treatment was complete.

“But it’s a completely different story if breast cancer is detected at a late stage,” says Terri. “By then it’s spread and you need extensive surgery and chemotherapy. I would’ve done that if I had to. I feel so fortunate I didn’t.”

But it wasn’t just luck…

Committed to screening

A self-described health nut, Terri for years has exercised, eaten nutritiously and followed health guidelines, including breast cancer screening. Screening means looking for cancer when there are no symptoms. For breast cancer, it typically happens in three ways: breast self exam, clinical breast exams (performed by a doctor) and mammograms.

“I never skipped a single mammogram -- ever,” says the 56-year-old. She’s also performed monthly breast self-exams since she was in her 20s.

But self-exams gave no indication of cancer growing in her right breast. Her annual mammogram last November did.

“Two days later I got called back in,” she says. “The strange thing is I wasn’t really surprised. I had a feeling…”

The path to diagnosis followed specific steps: additional mammography images, ultrasound and a biopsy.

“And when it came to treatment, I totally had choices -- that’s because of early detection,” she says. “I had so much information. I knew every step, every corner I was about to take. That understanding empowered me.”

All-around support

Terri appreciated the support of many -- her medical team, family, friends, other patients and business associates. Her associates include people she works with as editor and creative director of “Inspired Home” magazine.

She also drew on the wisdom of a group of women she greatly admires: the exercise class at Messiah Lutheran in Fargo. Terri’s led the class for 18 years. Today the participants range in age from 67 to 91.

“They’ve taught me far more than I’ve taught them,” she says. “They’ve been through all the hills and vales -- heart attacks, cancer, deaths, everything. These women are tenacious and amazing. I want to be just like them.”

Your turn!

If you’re due for a mammogram, don’t delay. “There’s no excuse,” says Terri. “They’re easily available and there’s nothing to fear.”

Dr. Janine Carson, Sanford radiologist who specializes in breast cancer, underscores Terri’s call to action.

“If you catch breast cancer early, it’s extremely treatable with minimal discomfort and disruption to the patient,” says Dr. Carson. “But if you catch it late, it’s far more difficult.”

Screening is the only way to catch it early. Sanford follows American Cancer Society screening recommendations:

  • Monthly breast self exams starting at age 20.
  • Clinical breast exams every three years in the 20s and 30s.
  • Annual mammograms and clinical breast exams beginning at age 40.

(Note: Women who are at increased risk may need to follow closer guidelines, including earlier mammograms. Talk to your doctor to determine what is right for you!)

So what’s your reason for not getting a mammogram?

  • If you’re worried about cost and don’t have insurance, call Sanford for assistance in connecting you with a state or federal program that can help.
  • If you’re worried a mammogram will be too uncomfortable, keep in mind the breast compression is brief and necessary for the best possible imaging. Many women find it helps to take a Tylenol® first.

And if you think mammography doesn’t make a difference? “My cancer never would have been detected early without that annual mammogram,” says Terri. “You owe this to yourself!”

Posted Date: July 2011