When Pamela Shafer’s routine mammogram returned with flagged results, she didn’t think much of it. Maybe this was typical, she thought, or a benign abnormality. But at her follow-up mammogram and ultrasound, the doctor diagnosed breast cancer.
“If I hadn’t gone back or hadn’t had that mammogram, I’d be dying right in front of you without knowing it,” said Shafer, a Scenic Elementary kindergarten teacher in Grand Junction.
Shafer met oncologist Alicia Swink, MD, at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction. She liked how she felt at the Cancer Center, and the two had an instant connection. Dr. Swink’s confidence inspired Shafer, and Shafer’s positivity moved Dr. Swink.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer affects one in eight women. Most people will be affected by it personally or by someone they know and love. Besides skin cancer, it’s the most common cancer in U.S. women. As an oncologist, Dr. Swink sees these women daily.
Dr. Swink’s patients, such as Shafer, complete chemotherapy treatments at St. Mary’s Cancer Center. In some ways, Shafer was just another patient. But Dr. Swink noticed how Shafer’s generous heart made her a beacon for other women in treatment. Shafer encouraged them to keep moving forward.
“Pam is a strong woman, and she is a schoolteacher. So, what had she encountered and not kept her calm and positive attitude?” reflected Dr. Swink. “And that’s how she approached her breast cancer diagnosis, too.”
Shafer learned her cancer would have been a death sentence 25 years ago and was surprised by its modern curability. “From the beginning, the oncologist, the radiation oncologist, and the surgeon were talking as a team about me,” said Shafer. “It’s very humbling having that many people working together to make sure you’re healthy.”
Shafer went through 29 rounds of chemo, 21 days of radiation, three surgeries, five echocardiograms, and several scans in her cancer treatment. She will have follow-up appointments to ensure cancer doesn’t return but consider this in her rear-view mirror.
“She’s done with her prescribed treatments, but we cannot underestimate the mark this has left on her and her family,” said Dr. Swink. “We keep in mind that healing takes time, and our team remains present and involved in that process.”
Dr. Swink continued, “I am so proud to be a part of this team at St. Mary’s. We truly focus on each individual patient as a person. They have names. They have families. They have challenges.”
Both Dr. Swink and Shafer encouraged women to get routine mammograms. During her initial follow-up mammogram and ultrasound, Shafer’s technician thanked her for coming back. “I said, ‘People don’t?’ And she told me I would be surprised. I think about that a lot,” said Shafer.
“It’s important for women in today’s society to recognize that taking time to get a mammogram is your right, and you need to do it for yourself,” Dr. Swink said. “Sure, for your family, for everyone else, but for yourself, that’s enough.”
Find a mammography center near you and schedule an appointment today.