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Breast and Cervical Health Check

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Char
Char

Char is a woman whose brown eyes sparkle and whose energy jumps all over the room when she breezes in. An ardent outdoors person and adventurer, she has summited Denali as an apprentice guide, cooked in remote survey camps and on a crab boat, and supervised cannery crews at the docks in Kasilof. Char was a married woman, enjoying a physically demanding job and training and racing skijor dogs when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2001. Like the other challenges in her life, she met breast cancer with courage, determination, and a positive outlook. This is her story.

I do not smoke and rarely have a drink. I take very good care of this strong little body I have been blessed with. I always wear my seat belt, drive with my headlights on, check the smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in my house, and wear a helmet on a machine. Having worked as a nurse’s aide, I realize that there are no guarantees I will wake up every morning healthy, so I do whatever I can to minimize risk factors. There is no history of breast cancer in my family.

The cannery was closed so I was unemployed and my husband was laid off from his construction job. I was thinking about putting off my mammogram until work picked up again in the spring. Fate intervened when a pleasant woman going door to door stopped by my house to tell me about an early detection program that would pay for my mammogram if I couldn’t afford one. If I had been at work, running my dogs, or skiing, I might have missed the outreach worker’s visit and waited too long.

However, since we met the monthly income guidelines, I got my mammogram instead of putting it off. It’s a good thing I did. The pathologist found three different types of cancer "in my one little left breast". One type of cancer was very, very small, but very, very aggressive.

I opted for a mastectomy. One of the reasons was to avoid the expense of radiation and reconstruction. Although the screening for breast cancer was covered when I was diagnosed, treatment was not. Thankfully, that’s not the case for women today.

I would like to note the incredibly competent and caring surgeons, anesthesiologist, physician, pathologist, radiologist, nurses and aides who provided such wonderful care here at our local hospital. My friends and family helped out with whatever I needed done, whether it be feeding my dogs or bringing me meals. The outpouring of support was overwhelming.

My message is "Get your mammogram NOW." I’ll be getting mine every April. Already three of my friends made appointments to get mammograms that they’ve been putting off. Women can continue to live meaningful lives when their cancer is discovered and treated early. I am happily and healthily surviving.

—Char

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