Gallery: Taking Control Of Breast Health [3 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Amanda Jean Harris
It is estimated nearly 40,000 women will die of breast cancer each year. Today there are at least 3 million women alive who have a history of breast cancer. Among those women are survivors like Danette Guillotte. One of the founders of Acadiana’s Hope for the Cure, Guillotte is proof that, for some women, there are few (if any) risk factors and no signs. “I was the first in my family,” she says. “I wasn’t even thinking about it. It was the last thing on my mind.”
Thirteen years ago, her yearly mammogram screening results gave her doctor concern. It would be months before Guillotte, who works for St. Martin Hospital, would have the second screening done. Busy family life, Hurricane Lily, her own father facing open heart surgery — “I put it off.”
In October of 2002 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The initial treatment plan was a total mastectomy. “My advice to women is to get a second opinion — always,” Guillotte says. “The second doctor said it was small and I could get a lumpectomy. I did the surgery and then chemo for eight months and radiation. I lost my hair. It was hard.”
And yet, it was a positive thing, Guillotte says. She now raises awareness for cancer and works with Hope for the Cure to give grants for college to children in high school (or adults wanting to return to college) who have had cancer. They create care packets for children first diagnosed and they cook meals for women in New Iberia when they are first diagnosed and as they go through chemo. “We are some little care givers,” Guillotte says.
And there are plenty of people to help, especially in Acadiana. Rates for breast cancer are higher in the Acadiana region than the national average, according to Dr. Tyshaun James-Hart, a board certified breast surgeon at Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
“Women here are at a higher risk than in other parts of Louisiana,” Hart says. “It has a lot to do with genetics and a lot to do with people that have genetic mutations.”
Genetic testing for breast cancer has been available for years. But recently, it has meant even more for women at risk for developing breast cancer for two reasons: new markers are being connected as cancer predictors and women are taking greater measures to prevent cancer based on their risk. Exhibit A: Angelina Jolie.
“It’s one of the best things that happened,” Hart says of the actress who elected to have a total mastectomy after learning she carried the gene for an aggressive form of breast cancer. “It gave a lot of women courage to say something and not everybody who has a mutation should have a mastectomy. But, knowledge is power and you need to know if you’re at risk and know what you can do. Or you learn you’re not at risk and you can breathe a little easier.”
Surgery isn’t the only option for women at risk of developing cancer. Dr. Techksell M. Washington, MD, MPH, FACP says in her practice with Our Lady of Lourdes Hospitals the main option for women at risk is tamoxifen, which has been FDA approved for risk reduction for years, but not used often for those who have never had cancer. (It is more commonly used in women who have survived cancer to prevent another cancer diagnosis.)
“Everybody doesn’t need genetic testing,” Hart says. Just as a woman who has some indicators for a future cancer diagnosis may not need surgery or medicine, not every woman needs genetic testing to begin with. Testing can cost around $1,500 and coverage from insurance depends on the provider.
The first step for every woman is to meet with a doctor to start the discussion and answer the risk assessment questions. By age 18 women should have a regular visit with a gynecologist with a clinical breast exam and self-exams every month at home.
“We need to be aware of our bodies and do the basics. Go to your doctor,” Hart says. “By 40 you need an ultrasound or mammogram and if you have dense tissue do it before then. If you have a family history, do it before then. We need to be our own advocates.”
Being an advocate is something Rachel Wickman knows all about. She is the face of metastatic breast cancer for many in Lafayette. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and is one of an estimated more than 155,000 women who is living with cancer. And will as long as she’s on this earth.
“I didn’t ever have ‘normal’ cancer,” Wickman says. “I didn’t know exactly how that all worked. I didn’t know that if cancer spreads to your brain, it’s still breast cells. My grandmother had breast cancer that spread to her bones and I thought she had bone cancer. She had breast cancer in her bones. I had no idea. Sometimes you’ll get a clean scan and they’ll say there’s no evidence of disease and they don’t need to see you for a while. But, you’re never considered cured or in remission.”
Wickman has noted that the metastitc population is not one that’s always represented. And now, she says that’s changing. “We’re the scary group,” she says. “We’re the group no one wants to be. A few months ago Komen called about doing a whole campaign for metastatic cancer. The metastatic community is becoming more well known and we want to keep getting it out there so that we are not forgotten. People are still very afraid of it and don’t like to talk about it.”
Breast Cancer Bits To Know
St. Martin Hospital has a grant for 300 free mammograms. The director of imaging, Julian Knott, says women who are uninsured or underinsured can qualify and simply need an order from a physician or St Martin can direct them to a Health Center nurse of the order.
“It’s a seamless process,” he says.
The Lydia Cancer Association is a New Iberia group dedicated to raising funds to assist local cancer patients in their fight. The association helps cancer patients in Vermillion, Iberia, St. Martin and St. Mary parishes via financial assistance. The group started as an American Cancer Society Relay for Life team with leader James Frawley Jr. and in 2002 the associate was formed. In 2004 Frawley lost his battle with cancer. Today, Lydia Cancer Association is thriving with the annual Food Fest each September along with other events like an Angler’s Tournament and a Breast Cancer Walk slated this year for Oct. 31 at Weeks Park. For more information call 337-367-1192 or go to lydiacancerassociation.org.
Acadiana’s Hope for a Cure is a nonprofit focuses on supporting women and children battling cancer. Their annual bike-a-thon Biking for a Cure is slated for Oct. 3 at Coteau Park from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. with food, raffles and safety demos from the Iberia Fire Department. The group was founded in the hopes of offering joy, comfort and love for those facing a cancer diagnosis and to find a new approach to proving love and hope to women and children with cancer. Founding members of the group are Dannette Guillotte, Kim Addie, Debra Savoie, Kim Behringer, Octavia Lynn Stevens and Sherry Prince. For more information find Acadiana’s Hope for a Cure on Facebook.
By the Numbers
1 in 8 women will have invasive breast cancer in their lifetime
231,840 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
60,290 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
40,290 women will die from breast cancer
2nd leading cause of cancer death in women
1 in 36 chance for a woman to die of breast cancer
SOURCE: American Cancer Society