By DIANE TURNER-HURNS
Journal & Topics Reporter
Two local women -- one from Rosemont and one from Rolling Meadows -- both in the final stages of breast cancer treatment have a life-saving tip to pass along to women: get an annual mammogram.
But if you find yourself pushing it off for some reason, do a breast self-exam and do it now.
Doing a breast self-exam (BSE) saved their lives, they said, each telling the Journal & Topics in different interviews.
A few years ago Rosemont Park Dist. Executive Director Karen Stephens found something irregular while she was doing a BSE. She contacted her doctor and, after several tests, was told she had breast cancer.
Since that time Stephens has had surgery, gone through radiation and chemotherapy treatments. She is in the last step of recovery, taking stabilizing medication for the next several years, she said.
“Everyone has been great. The doctors, the support system, my family and friends,” Stephens said. “It is tough, but you just have to do what you have to do.
“There have been ups and downs, but I work closely with my doctor. Also, if the medication is making me nausea, then they alter it,” Stephens added.
“I kept putting off getting a mammogram,” the Rolling Meadows resident, who asked not to be identified, said. “One day, something felt different. I did a self- exam and found something was off. I contacted my doctor and after tests I was told I had breast cancer.”
The Rolling Meadows resident put off having a mammogram as she helped a family member go through a major illness.
Once the diagnosis was made and confirmed by a second opinion, she began treatments about a year ago and is now doing fine.
“I will be on medication for the next 10 years,” she said. “Besides my family and friends, I have found many helpful resources. The American Cancer Society (ACS) provided one complimentary wig and make-up session. They also gave me a bag of cosmetics and taught me some tricks for post-cancer treatment make up.
“The ACS has a survivor celebration day for all cancer survivors in June,” she said. “My doctor, however, said you are a survivor from the first day of diagnosis.”
Both Stephens and the Rolling Meadows patient lost their hair during treatments.
“I went to Transformations in Arlington Hts. for my wigs,” the Rolling Meadows patient said. “It really helps because my hair will take some time to grow back.”
“Being told you have breast cancer is not a death sentence,” certified breast cancer nurse (CBCN) and breast cancer survivor Lynn Grogan told the Journal & Topics. “Once told you have breast cancer, it is important to get a second opinion.
“More people are surviving it now, more so than even 14 years ago when I had it,” Grogan said. “There have been huge inroads in the identification and treatment of breast cancer and any side effects. The person who helped me had breast cancer. She is a survivor and doing great.”
She said there are many people, unsung heroes, working behind the scenes on imaging and making sure the research and biopsy is correct to help people survive cancer, including pathologists and researchers.
“A second opinion, especially from a large hospital where more experts practice, is very important. They hold second opinion meetings to find what may not have been picked up in other tests at other hospitals,” Grogan, who works at Loyola University Hospital as one of two intake coordinators, said. “It’s best to go where there is a large volume of cancer specialists. They should get a second opinion within two months.
“We’ve seen substantial differences in pathology findings. Also, it is important to have doctors and nurses you trust. Take in what you need,” Grogan said. “ACS and www.breastcancer.org are good resources.”
Grogan said it is hard for cancer patients to tell their family they have breast cancer.
“It is a gut wrenching process to tell people they love they have cancer,” Grogan said.
As for treatments, Grogan said the medical community has revolutionized treatments to eliminate and reduce any nausea.
“Do not be afraid of treatment,” Grogan said. “Today, there is no need to tolerate nausea. Side effects are not always OK. Don’t assume they are OK. Ask your doctor for help.
“Keep in mind, you are not alone,” Grogan said.
“Wow, it’s been quite a journey,” the Rolling Meadows patient said about her experience since being diagnosed.