“I encourage every woman to commit to annual breast cancer testing”
Cancer is a very individual experience. With every survivor, there’s a different path and unique story to share. In North Carolina, women have a one-in-eight lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. In December 2021, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) employee Jennifer Grady found out she was part of that one-in-eight statistic.
Jennifer’s story began nine months before. Like a lot of people, she spent most of 2020 in isolation. She limited her social interactions and time spent in public spaces. Jennifer worked from home, ordered groceries, and skipped gatherings with friends and family. But when her annual mammogram appointment rolled around, she felt like it was probably the one thing she shouldn’t delay. And she’s glad she didn’t.
Jennifer remembers the first call from her doctor.
“The day after my mammogram, I received a call from my doctor’s office asking me to come back in. I asked them ‘How soon?’ And they responded, ‘How far away are you?’ That should’ve been clear to me that they wanted me in immediately,” she said.
After an ultrasound and biopsy, Jennifer was diagnosed with Stage 1 lobular breast cancer. She struggled to put on a brave face for her family during the holidays, but the most difficult part was telling her kids.
“My husband and I knew that we needed to be open with our teenagers and give them as much information as possible – including statistics, which helped provide some comfort level.”
To say Jennifer had a lot on her plate would be an understatement. Unfortunately, she didn’t have much time to process her feelings. Decisions needed to be made quickly. Would she get a lumpectomy or mastectomy? Would she go through chemo? How would she balance treatments and life?
With support from doctors, family, and other survivors, she learned about her options and decided on the best treatment for her. Then in January, Jennifer had surgery to remove her tumor and then followed up with radiation therapy in March.
The day after my mammogram, I received a call from my doctor’s office asking me to come back in. I asked them ‘How soon?’ And they responded, ‘How far away are you?’
Jennifer also found it helpful to connect with a case manager from Blue Cross NC. Case managers are registered nurses who help members with chronic or complex conditions manage their care. Jennifer’s case manager was able to link her with a nutritionist and mental health provider. This whole-person approach to her health helped shape Jennifer’s lifestyle and empowered her to take action and stay healthy. Throughout her treatment Jennifer focused on exercising, eating a vegetarian diet, and managing her stress levels.
Jennifer said she is grateful that her cancer was detected early on.
“It afforded me more treatment options because I know that this isn’t always the case for everyone’s story. Early detection has a significant impact on breast cancer treatment and outcomes,” she said. “I encourage every woman to commit to annual testing and believe I am a testament that early detection can save lives.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted routine care, it’s as important as ever to get regular check-ups and screenings. Getting a mammogram is the most effective screening tool to find breast cancer in most women. However, the benefits of mammography vary by age. Take a look at these resources from Susan G. Komen’s for breast cancer screening recommendations.
At Blue Cross NC, supporting survivors like Jennifer is important to us. That’s why we have been supporting Susan G. Komen and their NC affiliates for over 15 years. We are invested in their mission to reduce breast cancer deaths and ultimately find a cure. We sponsored Drive for the Cure 250 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Jennifer was our honored survivor.
Recently we announced a new collaborative research grant with Duke University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill to explore the disparities in metastatic breast cancer (MBC) outcomes in African American Women.
The Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer Collaborative Research Initiative was launched in 2019 to bring together Komen and researchers at two of the world’s most renowned cancer centers – Duke Cancer Institute and the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center – to develop treatments that will help people living with MBC to live longer, better lives.
The collaborative effort is a significant step towards addressing the medical, socioeconomic and systemic contributors to the disparities in metastatic breast cancer outcomes.
For more information and resources on breast cancer visit komen.org or call 1-877 GO KOMEN.