Minnesota woman promotes mammograms for early detection of cancer
Pam Nelson, 56, of Crosslake, Minnesota, found her cancer early after her nurse practitioner urged her to get a routine mammogram
CROSSLAKE, Minn. — “Get tested.”
That’s Pam Nelson’s advice to women to get mammograms during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October and anytime.
“I was the last person I thought would get cancer,” said Nelson, describing her shock upon learning in March that she had a form of breast cancer.
After all, the Crosslake, Minnesota, resident exercises every day and eats clean, healthy food, all with the goal and expectation of staying well.
“I just did all the things I thought would keep me healthy,” she said.
During a routine appointment, her nurse practitioner urged her to get a mammogram. Nelson, 56, hadn’t had one in many years because she and her husband, Rob, are self-employed and didn’t have employer health insurance.
So she put off annual mammograms.
“She pressed me this year. I said, ‘I’ll call for the cost,’” Nelson said. A mammogram wasn’t as expensive as she anticipated, so Nelson had a mammogram in early March.
Then she learned the results were still suspicious and they wanted to do a biopsy to gather tissue to be analyzed. Now she was scared.
On a Friday in March, she learned she had DCIS — ductal carcinoma in situ. Nelson explained she had no cancerous lumps. Rather, the cancer was within the milk ducts of the breast and hadn’t yet broken out into lumps.
DCIS is mainly found in mammograms and not usually through breast self exams since there are no lumps to feel. Small deposits of calcium show up as little white spots in the mammogram around where cancer may be lurking.
Nelson’s breast cancer was stage 0 — the earliest stage possible — because it hadn’t broken out of the milk ducts. But the cells were high grade. She learned the cancer was slow growing and not aggressive.
According to the American Cancer Society, about one in five new breast cancers will be DCIS, and nearly all women with this early stage of breast cancer can be cured. In DCIS, the cells that line the ducts have changed to cancer cells but they have not spread through the walls of the ducts into the nearby breast tissue.
Medical personnel wanted to schedule surgery. Nelson took the weekend to process the information and do her own research. She learned this type of breast cancer may never break out of the milk ducts and become an invasive cancer, but the possibility does exist.
She struggled, preferring natural healing, but in the end chose the path of science. She underwent two surgeries, both to remove as much of the tissue with cancer cells as possible, followed by 20 radiation treatments.
They’re confident the cancerous cells are gone.
“Right now I’m on medications and also doing as much as I can naturally between food and supplements and teas and different ways of detoxing my body,” Nelson said.
Nelson reiterated that the key takeaway from her breast cancer journey is to get tested, even if you think you’re healthy.
“You don’t know that. You can’t always use that as your gauge,” she said of her firsthand experience.
In her case, an overdue mammogram led to early detection of cancer.
She sent a note thanking her nurse practitioner for pushing Nelson to schedule a mammogram.
“People tend to put off their mammograms. Unfortunately, they just don’t want to do them,” Nelson said, because they’re uncomfortable or because of cost.
“Go get tested. Don’t rely on a breast exam at home. If you detect it that way and find a lump, it’s already out,” Nelson said.
When to see a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you notice a change in your breasts, such as a lump, an area of puckered or otherwise unusual skin, a thickened region under the skin, or nipple discharge.
Ask your doctor when you should consider breast cancer screening and how often it should be repeated. Most groups recommend considering routine breast cancer screening beginning in your 40s. Talk with your doctor about the right plan for you.