HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Personal experience shapes patient care for two mammography technologists at The Breast Center at Hattiesburg Clinic.
"I had always done my mom's mammograms ever since I'd been doing mammograms, and then about 11 years ago, did her mammo and found her breast cancer," said Martha Cochran, a mammography technologist at The Breast Center. "I was kind of shocked because nobody in our family has breast cancer. She's the first, and so far, the only one. So that kind of threw us off that, you know, there's always got to be the first. She just didn't want to be it."
According to the American Cancer Society, family history is one of several factors that make women "at high risk for breast cancer," and for those women, "screening with MRI and mammograms should begin at age 30 years and continue for as long as a woman is in good health." However, Cochran said early- screening age varies from patient to patient.
"If your mother had breast cancer in her, let's say she was 35, you need to actually start thinking about doing a mammogram 10 years prior to her diagnosis age," Cochran said.
Cochran said the new-found family history of breast cancer made her more conscious of her own health.
"I'm like, 'I'm getting my mammograms starting at 30 instead of 40,'" she said. "So I became more cautious about myself and my health, and making sure my sisters go and get their stuff done."
Mammography and ultrasound technologist Karen Walker said her mom's diagnosis shaped not only her awareness of her own health, but also her career path.
"When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was at a very young age, and then after everything she went through, I knew that I wanted to go into radiology, which is a form of mammography," Walker said. "Mom, she was 28 when she had her mammogram, and she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the one breast. Two years later, she had breast cancer in the other breast, so then they did two radical mastectomies. In the end, after four years, the cancer won. So after going through all of that, that made me think, 'well I want to help. I want to help do that. Find the cancer.'"
Cochran said, "At first when you hear you have breast cancer, a lot of times it's just 'that's not me.' My mom was constantly 'that's not me. He's not talking about me' every time she'd go to the doctor. I think it took her about a year to sink in that she had breast cancer. She had her breasts removed. It took awhile for her to just kind of get over that. You are in a shock when you have that done."
Both Cochran and Walker said their experiences have shaped how they explain the importance of annual mammograms to patients.
"I treat every patient like they're my mother," Cochran said. "A lot of people, they'll skip a couple of years. It's just real important that you come. You've got to take care of yourself number one. You can't take care of other people if you're not taking care of yourself. I try to tell women that because a lot of women, they're head of the household. They're taking care of the kids, taking care of their husband, and they kind of neglect themselves. We see that a lot in this field, and so I always tell women, 'you can't take care of others unless you take care of yourself.' Women just really need to take charge of their own health and come in and get their mammograms."
Walker said, "I've seen it way too many times. Even when the ladies come every year, and then just even in one year, what was not even there is something new there. So it really does make a difference, and it really can save lives. It does save lives."