The question was a complex one, but the answer was fairly simple. When asked about post-mastectomy and reconstruction scarring, Dr. Matthew Becker replied, “It’s your battle scar. Wear it with pride.”
The remark rang true for the dozens of attendees at the October 10 “Profiles in Pink” luncheon who have fought, or are still fighting, the battle against breast cancer. Harriett Irwin was one of them. Her battle began 13 years ago. “I was doing water aerobics and I was hurting,” Irwin said. “I thought I had strained a muscle. I went to the doctor and was told I needed to have another mammogram. I had the mammogram, a sonogram and four needle biopsies in an hour and a half, so I knew something wasn’t going well. I had surgery, a year’s worth of chemotherapy and 55 radiation treatments,” she added.
Irwin’s fight against breast cancer is both unique and unfortunately commonplace. While each experience with breast cancer is different, about one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. This year alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that more than 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women. An estimated 39,000 will die from it, but there currently are more than 2.8 million women in the United States who are breast cancer survivors.
“I’ve been cancer-free for 13 years,” Irwin said. “When I was diagnosed, I had just had my first grandchild. My prayer at that time was to see her grow up. She’s 14 years old now.”
Blount Memorial Hospital’s “Profiles in Pink” event celebrates stories like Irwin’s and provides information to the public about the latest in breast cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. This year, the luncheon included a panel discussion featuring five physicians from the Blount Memorial Cancer Center’s breast cancer care team, including surgeon Dr. Julie Ann Corcoran, radiologist Dr. Kristen Carver, radiation oncologist Dr. Daniel Green, medical oncologist Dr. Eric Schrock and plastic surgeon Dr. Matthew Becker. Together, they fielded questions about topics such as mammograms, chemotherapy and surgery from the crowd of more than 100 people.
“The benefit for attendees is two-fold,” Dr. Becker said. “On one hand, it’s a good way to hear about some of the topics that are floating around, and get some broad education on the topic, including things that you might not even think about until they hit you and it’s almost too late.” he explained. “The second is the social element. These women get to come together, meet other survivors and share their stories. It’s a good experience for them,” he added.
Radiation oncologist and Cancer Center medical director Dr. Albert Petty moderated the physician panel. “I think there’s a lot of valuable information that is shared with patients and others who are concerned about breast cancer,” Petty said. “There’s information about early detection for people who have never had breast cancer and, for those who have had it, it’s an opportunity to ask questions that they may have about their own case or their own type of treatment,” he said.
Early detection is something Irwin is passionate about. “I’m very disturbed that some of my friends still won’t go and have their mammograms,” she said. “They’re saying to me ‘I just don’t want to know.’ My words back are ‘Would you rather wait and find out that it’s in stage IV?’ Early detection is everything when it comes to cancer. Not just breast cancer, but all types. Any test that helps you find out, I think that’s what you should do,” she said. “You could be walking around with it today and not know it,” she added.
To anyone currently fighting the battle against breast cancer, Irwin says it’s important to stay strong. “There is light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “If you go into it thinking that you might not make it, you’re not going to. You have to start fighting right from the beginning and keep that fight up. Then, when you get up, you thank God every day that it’s another day,” she added.
Due to an overwhelming interest in this year’s “Profiles in Pink” luncheon, Blount Memorial Hospital is expanding the program to include an evening event called “Profiles in Pink at Night” set for Thursday, Oct. 17 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Knoxville Airport Hilton in Alcoa. The evening event also will feature a panel discussion with radiologist Dr. Kristen Carver and plastic surgeon Dr. Matthew Becker returning, this time alongside surgeon Dr. Melissa Trekell and medical oncologist Dr. Spence McCachren. Stepping away from his moderator role at the luncheon event, Dr. Albert Petty also will take part in the “Profiles in Pink at Night” panel. “I’m looking forward to being up there and answering some questions, as well,” he said.
There is no charge for “Profiles in Pink at Night,” but space is limited. For more information or to register, call the Blount Memorial Foundation at 865-977-5727. Light refreshments will be served.