A mammogram is still the best tool doctors have to find breast cancer early and save lives. While all women age 40 and older are recommended to have a mammogram every 1-2 years, breast cancer survivor Cathy Craig believes it is critical for younger women.
With women of all ages diagnosed with breast cancer, Craig believes the medical profession should make a mammogram a routine part of women's health check-ups like pap smears and pelvic exams.
"You don't have to be 40 or older to get cancer. Cancer affects all age groups," Craig told The Brazil Times in a recent interview. "A woman should be able to be treated and go on with life. There's too much at risk to have the costs of mammograms and other preventative measurements be the reason a woman doesn't get tested. That's just a crime."
Dealing with the recent loss of her brother and the hectic problems of life, Craig admits to being like many other women when it comes to having mammograms done.
"I wasn't going to go at first, I was going to postpone it," Craig said, and then admitted a dream about her mother changed her mind. "I had a dream of my mother crying when my brother was ill in 2006. It stuck with me. At first I thought it was to warn me about my brother dying, but when it returned I knew I had to go for the test."
There were no early warning signs. For Craig it was supposed to be a routine test.
"Even my doctor didn't find anything during a clinical breast exam before the mammogram," Craig said.
When doctors diagnosed breast cancer in March 2007, it took a few minutes for Craig to think of a response.
"They said something showed up and I said, 'No it didn't,'" she said.
A radiologist at St. Vincent Clay Hospital discovered five cancer cells hidden behind calcium deposits in the x-ray. Craig credits the keen eye of the radiologist for her current good health.
"I was very fortunate my cancer was detected early. I was briefly stunned when the doctor told me, but I think it hit my husband Jerry harder than me," Craig said. "Jerry's my rock, he always has been, but there was this look of shear terror on his face. The only thing I could think was, 'Who's going to take care of Jerry?'"
Although the five Stage 0-1 cancer cells were removed during a biopsy, doctors wanted to check the tissue in the area further to insure it was completely removed. Undergoing two surgeries within two weeks, doctors removed nine lymph nodes and a small amount of tissue from under Craig's breast.
"I began daily radiation treatments for six weeks," Craig said, then urged newly diagnosed cancer patients to listen to their doctors. "I had wonderful doctors and I should have listened to them and not worked as much. That was my biggest mistake during my recovery, I was exhausted and tired all the time. But, I had a good dark tan in one area."
Although the recovery process is ongoing, Craig said she doesn't think about being a cancer survivor that often.
"In the quiet moments, that's when I remember that I had cancer," Craig said. "At first you feel the pain of cancer. You don't go through recovery without it affecting your family too. It made me mad. It made me determined to fight it. But over time, it lessens and you don't think about it as much because there is life to live."
Craig admits there are times when she can't escape cancer.
"Going for testing still bothers me," she said. "You just hold your breath and wait for the results, then you breath."
In the face of potential tragedy, Craig said good came from her diagnosis and recovery. With her faith renewed, Craig found a new home and church family at Carbon United Methodist Church. She discovered an even stronger marriage and deeper family relationships.
"Although I knew all along the strength that my husband gives me, it was confirmed even more as Jerry took care of me while struggling with his own medical problems," Craig said, adding that is was especially hard to keep in touch with family members spread across the county. "It was a struggle to stay in touch. After losing our brother a few months before, my diagnosis really hit my (siblings) hard, but it brought our family even closer than before."
After meeting other breast cancer patients of all ages, many with young families, Craig doesn't understand why doctors and insurance providers don't push for mammograms to be a routine part of medical check-ups.
"They just don't fight for women's health issues, especially for women at a younger age. No young mother should have to die because of breast cancer," Craig said.
"Cancer can happen to anyone at any age. There is no excuse for a woman of any age to have to wait till cancer is possible, when it's possibly too late for treatment, to be tested. That just makes me mad."
Craig is interested in participating for her first time in the various local activities surrounding the 2008 American Cancer Society Clay County Relay For Life 14-hour event scheduled at the YMCA on May 3-4.
"Everyone who can should participate in Relay, it's a good cause," Craig said. "Cancer strikes everywhere. Don't think cancer can happen to someone else, another family, it can happen to you or the people you love. No one should have to die from cancer."
To learn more about the Clay County Relay For Life, contact Kathy White at 446-9733 or by e-mail at email@example.com or by logging onto www.events.cancer.org/rflclaycoin for more details about how to become involved.