It’s October and it’s time to get your mammogram

Published 5:19 pm Monday, October 5, 2015

Sonja Lucas, right, gently educates her patient during a recent mammogram at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Sonja Lucas, right, gently educates her patient during a recent mammogram at St. Luke’s Hospital.

By Kathy Woodham
Life In Our Foothills October 2015

The clock on the wall said it was close to eight that morning in February when Judy Lair went for her annual mammogram. Judy sat patiently with her book, waiting her turn. Never in her life did she expect the day –and her busy schedule—would go so awry.

“I was there for my regular mammogram, and really didn’t think anything about it when Sonja said they needed another view. That has happened in the past,” Judy said. She complied, had another x-ray of her breast and sat quietly waiting, pretending to read her book while instead watching, noticing the intricate workings of the radiology team.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“They were impressive—their interaction, their professionalism and their communication all impressed me. But I was anxious to hear ‘Everything is OK’ so I could get on with my day,” she said.

Judy Lair is a very busy person. She gives her time and especially her energy to so many local non-profit and civic activities that it’s hard to see how she finds the time to be so personally involved. There’s Rotary Club of Tryon. St. Luke’s Hospital Auxiliary. Choir and worship at Tryon First Baptist Church. St. Luke’s Hospital Foundation.

Until, that is, she had to cut back on volunteering to focus on herself after learning that dreaded February morning she had breast cancer.

Judy was that one in eight women who will be diagnosed with the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. It used to be one in 11.

Despite tons of research, education and awareness, self-exams and mammograms, breast cancer is now the second leading cause of death in women. The good news from all the research is that when breast cancer is detected early, chances of survival increase 100 percent.  With current technology, a mammogram can pinpoint a small lump in the breast long before it can be felt.

Physicians encourage women to perform breast self-exams monthly and undergo a low-dose x-ray of the breast annually. If a lump is found, doctors can insert a small needle at the site for a quicker, easier biopsy to determine if a lump is benign or malignant. From there, a plan of treatment combined with a “warrior” attitude are vital in the fight against cancer.

For Judy, it’s been nearly two years since Sonja Lucas, a mammography technologist at St. Luke’s Hospital, gently explained to her what to expect and what the radiologist prefers to see in a breast X-ray. Judy remembers that Dr. Ralph Ricco sat down with her to explain an ultrasound was needed, and Cindy Littlejohn, another radiology technologist answered her questions about the biopsy that followed.

Fast forward to October 2015 and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Judy is happy, healthy, vibrant and busy! She sees her doctor regularly, takes her prescribed medication and continues to have regular mammograms.

“I am thankful daily for the advances in diagnosing and treating breast cancer, and I am thankful for the people in the Radiology Department at St. Luke’s Hospital for their caring, their support and knowledge,” Judy said. “And I am especially thankful for digital technology!”

Judy was an active volunteer at St. Luke’s Hospital and chair of the Board for St. Luke’s Hospital Foundation when the board pledged to fund digital mammography. The technology was upgraded in 2009. And in May 2015, the Mammography Department added calming videos on large monitors complimented by soothing sounds and aromatherapy all designed to reduce anxiety and excuses to forego an important, potentially life-saving x-ray of the breasts.

The Sensory Suite, unique to St. Luke’s Hospital, has been a welcomed addition not only for the hospital’s mammography technologists, but especially for the patients who now have a choice of viewing ocean waves rolling onto the beach, a peaceful but vibrant garden scene or a babbling brook splashing over river rocks. Complimentary sounds and smells are designed to distract women from the discomfort and anxiety of a mammogram.

It’s October, and along with the colors of fall, expect to see lots of pink. Pink ribbons are the universal reminder that a diagnosis of breast cancer can change your life, and a simple breast x-ray can save your life. It’s October and it’s time for your mammogram.

For more information, please call St. Luke’s Hospital Radiology at 894-3525, ext. 3590.