The American Cancer Society estimates 39,620 women will die this year from breast cancer. Even though incident rates began to decline a year ago, breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death in women behind lung cancer according to the Cancer Society.
In her sixties, and with a history of good health, Maureen thought maybe she had beaten the odds. No reason to worry when she had a routine test at Pullman Regional Hospital. Even after a mammogram showed a suspicious mass, she wasn’t too worried.
Only when an ultrasound confirmed a tumor did Maureen suddenly realize she had joined the ranks of an estimated 232,000 women across the country that annually gets bad news.
“It was probably one of the scariest bits of news I’ve ever received,” Maureen said. “Hearing your name associated with the words ‘breast cancer’ is very scary”.
Maureen’s ordeal began on August 5th when she was diagnosed. “I had no clue whatsoever, and no symptoms. Absolutely nothing. Telling my husband and family was almost as difficult as hearing the diagnosis. They were equally stunned by the news. Without my family support, I’m not sure how I would have made it through this”.
“It is never an easy thing to hear,” said Maureen of her cancer diagnosis. “And it’s never an easy thing to tell anyone.”
The mammogram, ultrasound, and biopsy were all performed on the same day at Pullman Regional. The staff in the mammography department was wonderfully helpful. “Brenda Champoux and her staff were there with me, literally holding my hand and answering questions as procedures were happening. I was getting information the whole time about what was going on. They were awesome.“
Maureen said the moments surrounding a cancer diagnosis are especially unnerving because the unknown surfaces and all but suffocates rational thinking. Ten days later, surgeon Derrick Walker, D.O., with Palouse Surgeons, performed a lumpectomy at the hospital.
When Maureen came out of surgery, she was told that the cancer was very small and that it was only first stage. They got everything including nearby lymph nodes. Chemo was not necessary, but she would require four weeks of radiation treatment. Maureen underwent treatment, traveling five days a week to Lewiston. That amounted to about two hours on the road each day for the ten minute procedure.
“I felt pretty normal the whole time, but very sore after four weeks of radiation,” Maureen said. “And I'm thinking, I'm making this trip every day with a family member. But what about those people who have cancer so bad they're taking chemo and they're sick to their stomach and they have all of these symptoms that make them feel awful...,and they drive to Lewiston every day?”
For that reason, Maureen said that she wholly endorses the establishment of a cancer treatment facility in the Palouse. “I think that is where Pullman Regional is coming from. They need to get a cancer treatment facility here. I think it’s absolutely necessary.”
Scott Adams, Chief Executive Officer of Pullman Regional, agrees with Maureen. “It is clear the residents of the Palouse would benefit from a regional cancer care center that would provide full service radiation and chemo treatments to cancer patients who now travel to Lewiston or Spokane for this type of care,” he said. Area hospitals are in discussion about the business feasibility of operating this type of facility.
In the meantime, Maureen said that she encourages all women to stay on top of the breast cancer threat. Early detection, she said, is key. “I can’t say enough about how I feel about telling people to do it. Just do it. Get regular mammograms.”
Maureen lauded Dr. Walker and the entire staff at Pullman Regional. She said, “They helped me through a very scary time. I cannot thank them all enough.”