A little voice in Karon McCormick’s head told her: “Go do it. Just go do it.’’
McCormick, 64, a former dental hygienist, has always been religious about getting a yearly mammogram, especially after her twin sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 45. Still, the thought of another mammogram after years with clean findings left her feeling indifferent to the idea.
That little voice, though. She scheduled a three-dimensional mammogram at the Mary Lou Beshears Breast Care Center – Printers Park in November. Good thing she did. Doctors found a small tumor in her breast, and a biopsy a short time later showed the tumor was cancerous.
McCormick’s experience has left her feeling as though she needs to shout from the rooftops about the importance of mammograms and the experience she had at Memorial, which offers 2-D and 3-D mammography and has the most experienced breast cancer team in southern Colorado.
“I’m going to go door-to-door in my neighborhood and ask people: ‘How old are you? Have you had your mammogram?’’’ McCormick said with a laugh. “My twin sister and I know that it is just a 15- to 30-minute appointment once a year. I can’t overstate the importance of early detection. It saves lives.’’
After her biopsy, McCormick sat down with Dr. Michelle DeWing, medical director of Memorial’s Breast Care program, and Dr. Jane Witter Ridings, medical director of Radiation Oncology at Memorial. The physicians explained that they would do a lumpectomy – remove the tumor – but also talked to McCormick about Intraoperative radiation therapy.
IORT is different from traditional radiation therapy, which typically occurs for two to three minutes a day over a period of four weeks. With IORT, Dr. Ridings said, a custom-fitted balloon with an X-ray tube is inserted into the cavity left after the lumpectomy is complete. A small X-ray source then radiates any microscopic cancerous cells left in the tissue that had surrounded the tumor. The entire radiation treatment is completed while the patient is still in the operating room.
Dr. Ridings explained to McCormick that she was a good candidate for IORT because she had a small, non-aggressive type of cancer and was over the age of 60. Only occasionally will an IORT patient require an additional three- to five-week course of conventional external radiation, depending on the final pathology.
UCHealth’s Memorial Hospital and Poudre Valley Hospital share a registry study for UCHealth patients receiving IORT. Since Memorial did its first IORT procedure in southern Colorado in June 2014, 40 women have received the treatment at Memorial. At PVH, which began providing IORT in 2012, 47 women have received the treatment.
“To my knowledge, our patients have had no recurrences,’’ Dr. Ridings said, referring to both Memorial and PVH.
“We have a unique partnership with Poudre Valley Hospital. Because we’re all UCHealth, we share the X-ray equipment. We put it on a truck and move it down Interstate 25.”
McCormick had the procedure on a Monday. Dr. DeWing called on Friday and told McCormick that she was free of cancer.
“I’m going to live!’’ McCormick said after hearing the news.
Dr. DeWing said McCormick is a “case in point” for the importance of annual mammograms. McCormick’s tumor was very small (only 3 mm) when detected. Had she skipped the mammogram, the cancer could have grown and been more difficult to treat.
“She is my Poster Child,” DeWing said. “Women are afraid to get mammograms because they say, ‘what if they find something?’ If we find it early, that’s a good thing. Breast cancer is not the death sentence that it used to be.’’
Dr. DeWing said that cancer outcomes have improved 30 percent since the 1980s.
“Breast cancer can be just a bump in the road for people if we catch it early. There is life after breast cancer,’’ she said.
McCormick, who may be knocking on doors in Colorado Springs, said she is grateful for the care she received at Memorial.
“I can’t say enough about the excellent care and attention I have received from Dr. DeWing and Dr. Ridings and their staffs,’’ McCormick said. “Everyone from the radiologist, Dr. Jason Allen, and the radiology techs at Memorial, the receptionists, the nurse navigators … they were nothing short of outstanding. Our health care providers are truly bright lights in a fallen world, and they deserve much more credit and gratitude than they receive. I am forever in their debt.’’
Southern Colorado/Colorado Springs
Mary Lou Beshears Breast Care Center – Briargate
Mary Lou Beshears Breast Care Center – Printers Park