Some might call it intuition. Others, a gut feeling. But, for Carol Foster, the voice that told her to get a mammogram was an intervention from God.
Carol had no reason to suspect she had breast cancer – there was no family history, and she felt great. There was no palpable lump. At age 70, she thought her risk was slim to none, so in the five years since her last mammogram in 2014, she had declined to have another in each of her regular physicals. Earlier this year, however, as she was ready to once again decline having a mammogram, she suddenly changed her mind, a decision that quite possibly saved her life.
“My family has a history of heart problems,” said Carol. “Cancer is not in my family on either side.”
While she has been faithful in visiting her doctor routinely – going twice a year for bloodwork – she has never considered regular mammograms to be important considering her family history and a lifetime of great health.
“I had a mammogram in 2014, and everything was fine,” she said. “Ever since then when I would go (to the doctor), they’d ask if I wanted a mammogram. I’d say, ‘No, that’s fine’.
“In May when I went, they asked, ‘Mammogram?’ The nurse literally had her pencil ready to mark ‘denied’ – she knew I was going to say that again – but for some reason I said, ‘Why not’. I thought let’s just have this last one because I’m 70 now so my chances are getting less. Let’s just do this last one.”
As fate would have it, Carol made a life-saving decision. The mammogram she had at Lincoln Medical Center was abnormal. That led to a diagnostic mammogram and CT scan and eventually to biopsy.
“The biopsy came back and said it was cancer,” she recalled.
Once the diagnosis of breast cancer was confirmed, Carol had decisions to make. She met with her surgeon, Dr. Amy Vertrees in Columbia, as well as other members of her treatment team to devise a plan. She immediately felt she was in good hands.
“They were absolutely marvelous,” she said of the team in charge of her care. “Dr. Vertrees was just fantastic. She came in and was so vibrant and positive. I just fell in love with her. She told me it was at the right time. If I had waited a year or even just six months, it would’ve been a whole different story. I probably would’ve had to have a mastectomy, chemo, everything.”
Carol and her team decided on a lumpectomy and radiation.
What followed was surgery and then 36 treatments, once a day for a little over seven weeks.
Throughout the treatment period, Carol was blessed with support from family and friends, several of whom drove her to Columbia for radiation treatments. Others cooked meals.
“That support in itself helps you get through it,” she said, counting her blessings. “I’m very thankful for my family and friends. My church family was just absolutely amazing.”
Higgins Funeral Home, where Carol works as an advance planning specialist, was understanding and supportive, allowing her to adjust her schedule to accommodate surgery, recovery and radiation treatments.
Carol is also thankful for the opportunity to help others now who are dealing with their own cancer diagnosis.
“I’m a very private person,” she said. “I don’t really talk about stuff, but I’ve found I’m talking more about this because there are just so many people who have cancer now. People would talk to me about their experiences, and it helped me, so I want to help other people.”
She’s thankful for the excellent care she received from the local health community, including Dr. Ralston and Dr. Jones, whose words, “You are going to be okay”, helped her through the journey.
“I’m just very thankful that God shared with me in my heart to say what I did that day, that I would have the mammogram,” she said. “If not, I would probably still be going through treatments right now, or it could’ve even been worse.”
Carol’s advice to other women is simple – get your mammogram and follow your doctor’s orders.
“I couldn’t feel it,” Carol said, saying there was no lump or anything to make her suspect she had breast cancer. “I wouldn’t have ever been able to have known – maybe later on after it had gotten really worse I could have – but at that point in time, there was no way to know without a mammogram. There was no sign of anything to have known it.
“If I had waited until I felt it, or if I had just waited until my next checkup, it would’ve been a different story today,” she added.
“Get your mammogram,” she advised. “If you haven’t had one in a while, do it now. Do it on a regular routine, and follow your doctor’s orders.
“If cancer is in your family, yes, for sure get your mammogram, and if cancer is not in your family, yes, for sure still do it.”