Schedule Your Annual Mammogram, They Advise

October 21, 2020

Breast cancer survivors Candice Ermer and Jean Muccini took different paths to the Breast Health Center, but they agree on this: screenings are essential.

Woman holding cancer awareness ribbon

Candice Ermer, 72

I was cancer-free for 20 years, having been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer after receiving ductogram and mammograms in New York in 2000, where I’m from originally. Florida became my second home 10 years ago. I’ve been visiting the Breast Health Center (BHC) at LWRMC for my annual mammograms ever since. The BHC technologists always recognize me when I come in for my appointments. They put me at ease and provide the comfort, privacy and care I need.

A new journey began for me in May 2019 when a routine mammogram showed a spot on my left breast. I would need to have a stereotactic breast biopsy. I had no idea what that was, and I was bewildered why, after all these years of clear mammograms, they’d found something of concern. It was then that I got to meet breast health navigator Michelle Lynch for the first time. She was there, providing comfort throughout my entire journey, and answered all my questions.

When the day came for the procedure, I found that the easy part was the doctor’s incision. To get ready, I was helped up onto the table in the biopsy suite. Maneuvering my aging and less-flexible-than-ever-before body into a strange position on the table was challenging. Michelle was there to calm me. She held my hand and offered encouragement every step of the way. The biopsy on my left breast was determined to be benign, but as I continued a few months later with my follow-up mammograms, an area of concern was diagnosed on my right breast. After ultrasound and MRI-guided biopsy procedures, I was once again diagnosed with breast cancer. I am so glad my doctors did not give up their quest.

Surgery, performed in April in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown, was successful. The entire tumor was removed and the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes were free of cancer. A sample of the tumor was sent out for genomic testing to determine my chances for recurrence. The results came back at just three percent, more good news. I would only need four weeks of radiation therapy, just as my radiation oncologist predicted.

An exercise program was recommended by the radiation oncologist, and once my incision healed, I swam daily during my treatments. I kept comparing myself to others, who mentioned they were often tired during treatments and had to sleep in the afternoon. But I felt energized and was able to carry on with my daily routines, often stopping for groceries on my way home from treatments. Michelle expressed her belief that I did better due to my positive nature.

As was the case 10 years ago, I had great doctors again, this time in Florida. I was also blessed to have Michelle as an angel by my side. She is the quintessential patient advocate. Years ago the navigator role for patients did not exist. Michelle is a wonderful addition to medical services at LWRMC for breast cancer patients.

My advice is to be sure to have your mammogram annually to catch any issues early. If there are any, pursue them. Do your research. Select physicians in whom you have confidence and with whom you can communicate. You will find them, just as I did at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center.

Jean Muccini, 79

For years, my annual mammogram results were always clear. At 77 years old, I wondered if I even needed to go again. When the results came in that I had early-stage breast cancer, thankful is the only word I can use to describe my feelings for having made the appointment. Now, after a lumpectomy and radiation, I am cancer-free.

I was assigned to Michelle Lynch, breast care navigator. She saw me through the entire process. Every question got answered and was explained in nonmedical terms. If my answers were not coming soon enough, Michelle followed up to make sure I wasn’t left in the dark. She even sat with my husband in the waiting room for a while during my surgery so that he wouldn’t worry too much.

During the biopsy and lumpectomy, I was surrounded by several exceptionally caring practitioners who had me laughing. I was home the same evening. I received follow-up radiation and now I’m regularly seen by my cancer specialist.

The staff at the Breast Health Center is exceptionally kind. The entire treatment process was delivered in a calm, caring manner. I never felt rushed or bewildered. They saw me through, with compassion, what could have been a very traumatic experience.

My advice to other women: no matter what your age or how many times your mammogram comes back as normal, it remains essential to check this screening off your list yearly, as I hope my story demonstrates.