Shock, Fear and Blessings: A Patient’s Story on Facing Frightening News
It happened more than 10 years ago, but Fleura Wagemann remembers every detail as if it was yesterday afternoon.
She then was 25, and Wagemann, like many women that age, saw taking care of her health as a back-burner issue. She admits she had a mindset that said “it can’t happen to me.”
That’s when she found a lump in her right breast during a self-exam.
“It all changed when I found it. I was literally in shock,” Wagemann said. “It was shock and fear, but I didn’t hesitate. I made an appointment right away.”
When she did, her provider immediately set up appointments for mammogram and ultrasound exams.
“My doctor that attended to my ultrasound could see the fear in my eyes, and he told me he was taking the situation very seriously because his spouse had breast cancer at age 26,” she said. “When you hear the word ‘cancer’ spoken out loud from a doctor … it quickly makes this scary, seemingly unreal situation very real. It was almost instantly that I began to see my life in a different way.”
Wagemann, who works as an Avera Health Plans Customer Service Representative, said that she began to imagine all that would come next: a lumpectomy surgery, perhaps treatment with radiation and chemotherapy. Fear and shock made their places in her heart and in her head.
“I was scheduled for a lumpectomy, and awaited the results after my surgery, praying and hopeful, but I was still scared,” Wagemann said. “Thank God the pathology results came back quickly: the tissue was benign. I was certainly relieved, but now I realized: it could happen to me.”
Tricia Merrigan, MD, FACS, is a fellowship-trained breast surgeon with Avera Medical Group Comprehensive Breast Care, and she said while 80 percent of breast lumps are not cancer, early detection protocols make getting any lump checked the best decision a woman can make.
“Our goal is to sort out the facts and to have it make sense, because even quality imaging is not perfect,” said Merrigan. “When we have patients who are 30 or younger and find something, we usually begin with an ultrasound. From that point we can go to mammography.”
Merrigan said that some patients will need additional imaging, such as 3-D mammography, contrast-enhanced spectral mammography or MRI. Blood testing can also help determine whether or not the lump is cancer. In cases where there is still an abnormality detected, a biopsy will take place.
“The bottom line is early detection leads to better outcomes for the patient,” she said. “Cancer doesn’t typically present as pain, but any new symptom that persists beyond a couple of weeks can be an indicator and we feel it’s better to get it checked than to wait and in some cases allow a cancer to gain ground.”
The experience with her lump led Wagemann to become a strong advocate for preventive breast care, seeing it in a whole new light.
“The care I received in a truly frightening time had a huge impact in my life,” she said. “It’s made me remind my friends and family to do their self-exams and to get in for their mammograms. I am definitely aware that it can happen to me – to anyone, no matter the age. So I will keep telling people my story – I don’t want anyone to overlook a lump or feel like it cannot happen to them.”
She said the benign diagnosis of that lump certainly was a blessing, and that her vocal stance reminding those she cares about to stay vigilant is how she will continue to show her appreciation for that blessing.