Say annual mammograms led to early detection
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- In honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, NewsChannel 21 spoke with two women in Bend on two different journeys to recovery.
Lisa Nunes is a 42-year-old esthetician who started a facial studio at the Blissful Heart Wellness Center in Northwest Bend.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in February.
“I had my mammogram, and then two days later they called me for a diagnostic, and that led to a biopsy, and the biopsy led to the diagnosis,” she said recently.
Nunes found out she had a gene mutation that could cause breast cancer. She had no prior knowledge of cancer in her family because she was adopted.
After her diagnosis, Nunes went to go see Dr. Andy Higgins, a general surgeon who focuses on breast care at Bend Vitality Clinic.
“It’s not necessarily accepting ‘I have breast cancer and this is how it is,’ but accepting you have a challenge to deal with, and these are the corrections,” Higgins says.
With more than 20 years of experience, Higgins said he has met patients as young as 25 and as old as 93. His patients have included both men and women.
He suggests exercising and maintaining an ideal body weight, with a body mass index less than 25, eating a balanced diet with fresh fruit and vegetables, and minimizing toxins like alcohol and tobacco, to minimize the risk of developing cancer.
“The 500-pound elephant in the room is decompressing the stress,” Higgins added. “It’s not so much ‘How do I live a stress-free life?’ It’s, ‘How do I do things that decrease and mitigate the stress I’m constantly under?’”
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women.
The American Cancer Society estimates there are 284,200 cases of breast cancer nationwide this year alone. That includes 24,790 new cases in Oregon. The data includes cancer found in both men and women.
Nunes decided to get an aesthetic flat closure and chose not to do reconstruction.
As a mother of two, Nunes said the decision to remove her breasts in order to be healthy was easy.
“I was a larger-breasted woman and I never really felt comfortable,” she said. “Now that I don’t have any breasts, I feel so empowered, and I feel much more confident in who I am.”
Doctors suggest women get their first mammogram at age 40, but many cases are detected before then.
Another patient, 40-year-old Hannah Boomer (Renzi), is a nurse midwife at St. Charles Bend.
In March, she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, a type of breast cancer that breaks through the milk duct and invades the breast tissue. It also affected her lymph nodes, which had to be removed.
Boomer credits her medical training for helping her recognize when she first developed signs of breast cancer.
“I think if I had ignored the signs, I probably would have Stage 4 cancer, which would be harder to treat,” Boomer said.
Unlike Nunes, Boomer did not have a family history of breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society says 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary.
“I was completely shocked when I found out, because I’m young and healthy,” she said. “I check a lot of boxes for being low-risk for breast cancer.”
Boomer said telling her 21-year-old son was one of the hardest things she's ever done.
“I think a lot of people think breast cancer can be a death sentence, and I think he anticipated me being a lot sicker than I have been,” Boomer said.
Boomer said due to the nature of her cancer, she is not a candidate for some reconstruction surgery options.
“I just graduated chemotherapy, and I’m so grateful,” Boomer said. “You can see my hair is barely starting to grow back.”
In October, Boomer will undergo an aesthetic flat closure, after getting a mastectomy.
Nunes and Boomer want their stories to inspire other women to get their annual mammograms and be more familiar with their bodies, so they can detect the warning signs early.
For more information, check out KTVZ's Breast Cancer Awareness webpage.