Mammogram detects breast cancer during pandemic

'Cancer does not wait for COVID to go away'

Kristi Meuchel has a family history of breast cancer. Her maternal grandmother, mother and three of her four sisters have all had breast cancer.

Because of her strong family history, Meuchel never misses her annual mammogram.

“I’ve been doing mammograms for a long time due to family history,” said Meuchel, a resident of Bismarck, North Dakota. “All of the women in our family start doing mammograms earlier.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, this year was no different.

“I made my appointment in January before the pandemic hit,” Meuchel said. “I knew that it would be a little bit different going in when I did on March 20 but I never considered rescheduling it because of the importance of early detection. I’ve seen that with my family — you need to find out early because it just makes the course of treatment easier and makes the prognosis so much better.”

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On March 26, Meuchel was diagnosed with breast cancer. She says she didn’t have any hesitations about going in for her screening and she’s thankful she didn’t put it off.

“Initially, even before my mammogram, I was wondering what it would be like going in,” Meuchel said. “Because of the measures Sanford Health has taken to make everyone safe, I feel way more comfortable going there then I would to the grocery store at this point.”

Dr. Christina Tello-Skjerseth, a radiologist at Sanford Health in Bismarck, says early detection is key to fighting breast cancer.

“Breast cancer is still very common in women,” Dr. Tello-Skjerseth said. “1 in 8 women will get breast cancer and unfortunately during the COVID-19 pandemic, screenings across the entire United States have decreased by 80 to 90%, which is very scary. If we catch cancers early, women have more than a 90% chance to survive the breast cancer.”

Dr. Tello-Skjerseth says if Meuchel would’ve delayed her screening, her prognosis might’ve been completely different.

“For any high-risk patient — if we’re looking for those small, early, aggressive cancers — we want to take care of it right away,” said Dr. Tello-Skjerseth.

Which is exactly what doctors did when Meuchel was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer.

“If she would’ve waited a couple of months or even a year, that cancer could’ve doubled in size, could’ve spread to other organs in her body and could’ve been untreatable,” Dr. Tello-Skjerseth said. “So it’s important that we catch these cancers early so we can treat them appropriately before it’s too late.”

“My prognosis is fantastic,” Meuchel said. “I just need to get through this process and I’m going to be OK. Had I chosen to wait, that might not be the case. And it’s just not worth it. You’re going to be safe, they’re going to keep you safe, so just go in and get your screenings.”

Because even during a pandemic like COVID-19, doctors say people still need to take care of themselves and go to their scheduled screenings and appointments.

“Cancer does not wait for COVID to go away or for a pandemic to end,” said Dr. Tello-Skjerseth.

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Posted In Bismarck, Cancer, Cancer Screenings, Coronavirus, Healthy Living

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