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Breast cancer diagnosis 'floored' 81-year-old Huntsville native

By HERWriter Guide October 25, 2010 - 8:29pm

I found an interesting article this week from Huntsville, Alabama about an 81-year-old woman diagnosed with breast cancer. The Huntsville Times story is below. What do you think of this? Would you advise women, no matter what their age, to continue to get mammograms? Do you advise older women you know to have regular mammograms? I'd love your thoughts on this. Pat

Breast cancer diagnosis 'floored' 81-year-old Huntsville native

There isn't a history of breast cancer in Barbara Phillips' family, she doesn't have any of the obvious risk factors and, over decades of checkups and screenings, she has never shown any real signs of the disease.

So it's an understatement to say she was surprised in April when, at age 80, cancer was found in her left breast.

"I was floored," she said.

And fortunate, as these things go. The possible cancer was discovered during her annual mammogram and swiftly confirmed by an ultrasound and then a biopsy.

Phillips could have had a lumpectomy, but was told that would be followed by from five to seven weeks of radiation therapy. She decided on a mastectomy instead, did not have to undergo any of those uncomfortable treatments afterward and is not taking any kind of anti-cancer medication.

"I was very blessed," she said. "I caught it very early by a mammogram."

She donated samples of her blood and tissue to Clearview Cancer Institute and HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, helping with research that could benefit other women, including her own two daughters, grandaughters and great-grandaughters.

Phillips is a Huntsville native and worked 24 years in the Huntsville City Schools' central office until her retirement in 1993. Her husband, Thomas, died 19 years ago, and she has also lost a son. Her daughter, Kimberly Clement, lives here and another daughter, Cheryl Cris, lives in Baton Rouge.

She said her daughters are intensifying their own cancer checkups, armed with information about their mother's experience. Just a couple of weeks after Phillips' surgery, Clement had a mammogram that raised some concerns, but a biopsy revealed a benign cyst.

"That was really scary, but hers turned out to be fine," Phillips said.

Today, Phillips is back into her busy routine, including exercising three times a week at Andrew Jackson Way Baptist Church. And she's happy to be an 81-year-old cheerleader for the necessity of continuing mammograms and cancer screening as you age.

"It's very, very important," she said.

Considering her age, Phillips figured she had dodged the disease. "I never dreamed I'd get breast cancer or any other malignancy," she said.

It was easy to find excuses to avoid the inconvenience of an examination, and she almost didn't go to have her mammogram in April.

"I was going to skip a year," Phillips said. "I'm 80 years old. I've never had a problem. Why go?

"Had I not gone and waited another year, I don't know what I might be facing today."

EmpowHER Guest
By Anonymous March 23, 2012 - 6:46am

Hi Pat Elliott,

Thanks for sharing this story.  Phillips was very lucky to make that wise decision of going for her mammogram and not waiting another year.  




March 23, 2012 - 6:46am

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