Breast cancer survivor urges action for early detection

Published: Oct. 24, 2019 at 10:27 PM CDT
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Last year's holiday season was memorable for Natalie Johnson of Topeka, but for all the wrong reasons.

"I kept thinking it was nothing at that point," she says of the first feeling a lump in her breast after a shower the week before Christmas.

On New Year's Eve, the 35-year-old mother of three got the news she had breast cancer.

"Honestly, I was more worried about everyone else than myself, just because, you know - how's my mom gonna take it? How's my husband gonna take it? And then the kids," she said. "Everything flashes in my mind of - am I gonna be here to raise my kids?"

The year that's followed has been filled with surgery, then chemo, and now radiation.

"I just treated it as - this is what it is; this is the plan; we're gonna get thru it," she said.

Robin McKay, APRN with Cotton O'Neil Cancer Center, says Natalie's actions likely played a key role in her successful treatment.

"The earlier we catch a cancer, the greater chance we have of getting rid of it and having it never come back again," McKay said.

McKay says more women are surviving breast cancer, but, still, the U.S. has seen a slight increase in cases since 2004. Nearly 270,000 women in the U.S, will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and more than 40,000 women will die from it.

"It's not like breast cancer is going away," McKay said. "One in eight women will be affected by invasive breast cancer in their lifetime, so that's pretty significant."

Lowering risk factors like obesity is important. Paying attention to your body is vital.

Annual mammograms are recommended for women once they reach age 40, and McKay still advises monthly self exams starting at 20. That's often how younger women like Natalie first know there might be a problem.

"If you notice something different, check it out - whether that be a lump, a bump, a rash, a red area, pain. Anything new that persists for more than a few days, just get it checked out," McKay said.

Natalie is glad she did. She is halfway through radiation, keeping a smile on her face, and looking forward to being able to say she's cancer free.

"Surround yourself with people that are there to support you," she said. "It's just a detour in my plan but there's light at the end of the tunnel."