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The importance of self-screenings

Sarah Davison had no history of breast cancer in her family. But thanks to a self-screening she did while doing a morning routine, her cancer was found early and treated.

At 36 years of age, she was too young for the mammogram screening standards, as those usually start around 40 years of age.

“I just had my annual exam (with a breast exam) in July and in September of 2018, I found a malformation in one of my breasts as I was putting my deodorant on,” she recalled. “I called and got in for a mammogram and ultrasound, then a biopsy. It was found to be HER2 positive, which turned out to be estrogen driven.”

Shortly after that, she got a breast MRI at the Women’s Center at Cookeville Regional Medical Center, which found a third spot, showing just how aggressive it was.

CRMC is the only facility in the Upper Cumberland that offers breast MRI, which can locate some small breast lesions sometimes missed by mammography. It can also help detect breast cancer in women with breast implants and in younger women who tend to have dense breast tissue.

Fortunately, it had not spread to the lymph nodes, which made treating it easier.

“It was low-grade and attached to the nipple,” she said. “I opted for the double mastectomy and to have three lymph nodes taken out.”

Since it was estrogen driven, she also opted to have her ovaries and tubes removed.

When she got the diagnosis, she felt shock and worry.

“My girls were five at the time and I knew I had to be here for them,” she said.

She underwent three months of chemotherapy under the care of oncologist Dr. Venumadhav Kotla, and then two reconstructive surgeries.

“It was a gradual process,” she said of the chemo. “I had a reaction to it the first time and they had to slowly introduce it to my body. I lost my hair and I was exhausted.”

Through her journey, she did find support through CRMC’s breast health navigator Amy Ayers.

“I could not have done this without Amy’s help,” she said. “Her guidance helped me determine the best treatment plan.”

She also got genetic testing done – another unique service provided at CRMC – but no genetic mutations were found.

“I wanted to know if I had anything that my girls should watch out for,” she said. “That was a relief.”

One thing she learned from this experience is to have patience.

“Things don’t happen overnight or on your schedule,” she said when referring to treatment and surgeries. “There’s nothing that will make things go faster.”

She also found that interacting with others via support groups on Facebook helped her get through the rough parts.

“There is a lot to learn from different people who have gone through this same thing,” she said.

She tries to eat clean and use more organic items as well.

“There’s a lot of emotional toll that it takes, but with support, it does get easier,” she said. “I received fantastic care here at Cookeville Regional Medical Center and there is nothing I would have done different.”