Breast cancer survivor shares message of hope, vigilance

Published: Oct. 21, 2021 at 10:00 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Jodi Sturgeon says what happened when she went for a mammogram in August 2020 was a “kick in the gut.”

Usually vigilant about her checkups, she’d been putting off her annual mammograms.

“I had missed a couple years of mammograms but had continued to do my self checks so I was fairly positive in my own head that I didn’t have any issues,” she said.

Instead, they immediately sent her for an ultrasound, then said they’d need to do a biopsy. Jodi was 47-years old, and had breast cancer.

“It’s like the world just stopped for a minute,” Jodi said. “I immediately thought of my dad. I knew it would break his heart because he was always scared of cancer himself.”

She also thought of her mom, who battled breast cancer when she was in her late 50s.

“Knowing mom got through it and knowing how much alike my mom and I really are, it was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this. It will be okay. It’s gonna suck, but I’ll be okay,’” Jodi said.

Jodi knew her mother’s diagnosis increased her own risk for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society says the average woman has a one in eight chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime. For women with a first-degree relative who had breast cancer (mother, sister or daughter), the risk is doubled.

Regardless of family history, regular screening is key to catch cancers early.

“Discovering (breast cancer) in its earlier stages almost always leads to better outcomes, better survival, better time that people remain disease free,” said Dr. Brandon Weckbaugh, an oncologist at Stormont Vail Cancer Center.

He said many women delayed their mammogram because of concerns of COVID exposure in a health care setting. As a result, doctors nationwide are finding they’re diagnosing more advanced cancers. He said anyone who put off their mammogram should feel confident safely scheduling one.

Read the American Cancer Society’s guidelines for breast cancer screening and early detection

Dr. Weckbaugh says breast cancer treatment has seen rapid evolution over the past two decades, as researchers have learned how proteins, hormones, and location create various cancer subgroups.

“We’re always making strides,” he said. “If someone was diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1960s, they would probably get a radical mastectomy, a very big surgery. What we’ve learned over time is that sometimes doing smaller surgeries can have just as good of outcomes, and, when it comes to the types of drugs we use for breast cancer, those are evolving over time to the point where even women with very advanced breast cancer can be managed with pills even.”

Jodi underwent a double mastectomy and radiation. She says she found support from her family and friends, and her Facebook page - Jodi’s Journey - where this Hulk fan detailed her drive to smash cancer.

“People appeared from out of nowhere to help to support us,” she said.

She wants people who hear her story remember two things: One, get your mammogram; and two, if you are diagnosed, there’s hope.

“Your life is like a book, and your breast cancer journey is just one chapter of that book,” she said, recalling advice from another breast cancer survivor. “It doesn’t have to define your life or ruin your life or run your life. You can get through it and you can move on.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. People are invited to join the fight at the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer events. Topeka’s walk is Saturday, Oct. 23, at Evergy Plaza on S. Kansas Ave. Registration and activities open at 8:30 a.m., with a three-mile walk starting at 9:30 a.m. Find more information, sign up, and donate on their event page.

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