Breast cancer survivor urges women not to delay screening

Mammogram detected breast cancer at earliest and most treatable stage

A Sanford Health patient smiles by a tree. Hanging plants line the white fence behind her.

It was March when Dawn Williams of Aberdeen, South Dakota, went into the Sanford Aberdeen Clinic for her routine mammogram. Late — because of COVID-19.

“I didn’t go in when I was supposed to in October,” said Williams. “I didn’t have a lump or anything that prompted me to go in, other than knowing I needed to complete my yearly visit.”

Except for wearing a mask, her appointment was like every other mammogram visit.

Stay on top of your breast health: Schedule a mammogram at Sanford Health

“When they called to say I needed to come back in, that was my normal. I have dense breast tissue, so I always get a callback,” Williams explained. “But by the time I went in for my follow-up visit, I knew this was something different. I could just feel it.”

The biopsy confirmed that Williams had stage 0 breast cancer.

“Even though I had a feeling beforehand, I was in shock. I never thought I would have to experience this,” Williams said. “Of course, after I got the call, the first thing I did was go online, which you should never do. Stay off Google.”

She added, “From the moment I got the call telling me I had breast cancer, my care was so coordinated. They had an appointment already scheduled with my entire cancer team — the medical oncologist, surgeon and plastic surgeon.”

At this visit, William’s care team sat down with her to decide on her treatment plan together.

“The doctor was talking about only removing my one breast, the one that had cancer,” explained Williams, “but in my head, I already knew I wanted to remove both breasts if I could.”

She continued, “I didn’t know if removing both breasts was an option. Then my nurse navigator brought it up. Through talking with her and my care team about my concerns, I decided I wanted to have a double mastectomy.”

In addition to removing a lymph node, Williams underwent a bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomy and breast reconstruction as one procedure at the Edith Sanford Breast Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“The morning of my surgery, they had me come in hours ahead of time,” said Williams. “I thought they would be the longest two hours of my life, but everything went by so fast. I got to meet with everyone who would be involved in my surgery and ask any questions.”

“Everything went so smoothly,” she said. “I remember someone entering my room and asking, ‘Dawn, how are you doing?’ and I responded, ‘Just waiting for surgery.’ And, she responded, ‘Dawn, your surgery is done.’ I could not believe it. My experience could not have gone any better.”

Williams is currently in remission and completes regular exams, including breast exams, with her oncologist, surgeons and primary care provider. Because of her double mastectomy, she no longer needs to complete a yearly mammogram.

“I feel very blessed. I know other breast cancer patients have had to go through so much more. I did not need chemotherapy or radiation. I had surgery on Wednesday, left the hospital Thursday and was back at work on Friday,” said Williams.

She knows hers was a best-case scenario.

“We found my cancer very early. Who knows what would have happened if I waited? My cancer cells were very active, so if I had delayed my screening any longer, it could have been a completely different diagnosis. That is why screening is so important,” she said. “I hope sharing my story helps encourage others to stay on top of their screenings.”

If it’s time for your mammogram, contact your local clinic to schedule an appointment. Sanford Health is committed to providing you with care in a healthy and safe environment.

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Posted In Aberdeen, Cancer, Cancer Screenings, Cancer Treatments, Imaging, Sioux Falls

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