Thirty-three percent of women have not had a mammogram in the past two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, Kay Easter of Denton, North Carolina, was included in that statistic.
She didn’t think regular mammograms were necessary. No one in her family had ever been diagnosed with breast cancer, so she let 10 years pass by before getting a mammogram at age 62.
“As soon as I felt the lump, I knew,” said the now 64-year-old. “I didn’t expect anything other than what they told me. I was really concerned when they said it was as bad as it was – stage 3. I immediately responded, ‘Well, I guess that’s better than stage 4, isn’t it?’”
Easter kept positive throughout her breast cancer journey, which started with a diagnosis in 2013 at Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center. She had lost her husband to cancer in 2012, and she said her diagnosis was like a double shock.
“I think my faith got me through it,” Easter said. “I also felt taken care of and never felt like I was alone in the dark. People were so kind; my friends and family rallied around me.”
After a treatment plan that included radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, Easter is officially in remission. Her last radiation treatment was in January 2014 and she will have a follow-up surgery to remove a nodule on her chest wall.
“When it was over, I was very grateful for how well I got through everything. You hate to say it was a wonderful experience, but I would say it was the best it could be.”
Easter shares her cancer journey openly and encourages other women to get their mammograms. She has three sisters, and says she is constantly after them, making sure they are up-to-date on their screenings.
“That’s my thing now,” said Easter. “I ask all my friends and all the women I know if they’ve had their mammogram lately.”
She said letting cancer get to the point that it did is a lot scarier than a mammogram. “Mammograms are much easier than the cancer treatment," Easter said. "Early detection is everything.”
Dr. Heather Shearer of Novant Health Oncology Specialists agreed.
“Generally, the earlier a patient is diagnosed, the easier their treatment,” Shearer said. “If you get your mammograms annually, there is a better chance for early intervention and a treatment plan that may just include surgery instead of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.”
From her experience, Easter has some advice for aging women: “Do your self-exams, get the mammograms and always take care of yourself. As we get older, we have to take care of ourselves.”