The Wichitan

Professor shares breast cancer experience

Shelby Davis

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Anne-Marie Williamson, assistant nursing professor, said she found a mass one day in her breast. She immediately made an appointment with her doctor. When she made it to her surgeon she was told that the mass was not cancerous, however doctors were concerned that it might develop into cancer.

Williamson said, “it is so important for women, if they find a mass or change, they shouldn’t have a wait –and- see attitude.”

For more than two months she was under the assumption that she did not have cancer.  Williamson’s surgeon suggested that she get a second opinion from another surgeon. She said she was reluctant but she made the appointment. This surgeon decided that the lump needed to be taken out so it could be further investigated.

“At the same time they told me it was cancer they said they did not have it all,” Williamson said.

They checked her lymph nodes, a system in the body that collects fluid and debris outside of the bloodstream that can help with the spread of cancer, and discovered that some of them needed to be removed. She said knowing that they needed to be taken out was harder for her then the initial diagnosis. She then underwent chemotherapy, a treatment that uses chemicals to attack cancer cells.

“I was sick as a dog with chemo. I lost all of my hair and had 20 hours of surgery,” Williamson said.

An estimated 226,870 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women and 2,190 cases among men in the U.S. this year and many of them will share a similar story to Williamson. For a female at age 20, the chances of developing breast cancer are one in every 1,681 women. In her lifetime, the statistics show that breast cancer develops in one of every eight women. Even with extensive research by many organizations, scientist do not know what the cause of breast cancer is.

“That is the $50 million dollar question,” Anne-Marie Williamson said.

Scientists, however, know that body cells are programmed to divide and kill themselves off. When mutated cells continue to multiply uncontrollable they become a cancer that is often inherited through genes such as BRCA1, breast cancer type 1, or BRCA2, breast cancer type 2. BRCA1, a tumor suppressor found in breast and other tissues, repairs and destroys damaged DNA cells. The BRCA2 gene provides instructions on making the protein involved in the repair of damaged genetic material. According to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure website, when a woman carries these genes she has a 60 to 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer before the age 70. However, inheriting the gene for breast cancer is not the only factor that determines the development of breast cancer.

“The greatest risk is being a women and getting older,” Sue Myers said, Wichita Falls Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Race Chair and administrator at the Breast Center of Texoma.

Other factors include family history of breast cancer, a high breast density, current or recent use of birth control pills, having a menstrual period before age 12.

“Risks are only increased by 15 percent if your mother has breast cancer,” Myers said.

Still, factors are not what determine the development of cancer. Even people with all the factors may not develop breast cancer.

Regardless of the risk factors, experts still say regular self-examinations are important. Signs of breast cancer are not the same for all women.

“The best method is early detection,” Myers said.

Some things that should be reported to a doctor if noticed are lumps in the breast or underarms, swelling, warmth or redness, changes in size or shape to the breast, dimpling or puckering of the skin and any other new pain that does not go away.

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure website suggests that college age women undergo clinical breast exams every three years and that women older than 40 have clinical breast exams and a mammogram once a year. A mammogram is an X-ray of the breast that can find cancer when it is small and easier to treat. The National Cancer Institute says women between 40 and 70 should have a mammogram every one or two years.

“Most guidelines use age as the determining factor in when, and how often, a woman should get a mammogram,” Steve Cummings said, MD, of the San Francisco Coordinating Center at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute,

When women are consistent about where they get their mammograms done it makes it easier to doctors to compare changes on the breast, which can help in the detection of cancer.

“One of the important things is for women to be consistent on where they get mammograms,” Williamson said.

Even when doctors detect cancer on a mammogram, women have choices regarding the treatment including surgical removal of the cancer cells or the breast and radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of both to attack cancer cells in the body.

“It’s a complicated decision depending of the aggressiveness of the cancer,” Williamson said. “One of the big problems with treating cancer is that the treatment does not know the difference in healthy and damaged cells.”

The Susan G. Komen foundation is trying to help women realize their options and to fund cancer research. Also, they help people get treatment that otherwise could not afford it.

“Almost all advancements have been funded or partially funded by Komen,” Meyers said.

Locally, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Wichita Falls helps raise money for people in the community who need help. Last year, 600 women from the community received help from the affiliation. MSU nursing students as well as athletes on the golf team, volleyball team and women’s basketball team all volunteered on race day, Oct. 13.

“We would love to get them even more involved,” Myers said.

Marketing students have teamed up with Red River Best Chevy Dealer to raise awareness and money for the American Cancer Society by using a pink Chevy Spark to attract potential donors.

“We set the ticket price so that anyone could come,” Demi Baird, senior marketing major, said.

Ticket price was $12 and they sold 100 more tickets than they had hoped for. They still are working on a marketing plan to promote the car for the rest of the semester.

“Our main goal was to promote the care and raise awareness for breast cancer,” Baird said.

And raise awareness they did. For people like Williamson, the awareness is just the beginning, the beginning of a race for her life.

“Crossing the finish line was a moment I was not prepared for, it was like I was crossing a finish line in life,” Williamson said, of the moment she finished Race for the Cure after she finished chemotherapy.

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Professor shares breast cancer experience