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A journey to freedom

In the deepest of pain, Gail Rognan found the greatest of joy

G

By KATHY REED

ail Rognan believes cancer set her free. It has been nearly six months since the 58-yearold Coupeville woman was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had undergone regular mammograms every two years most of her adult life.

When she accepted a job as a sales representative with a local publishing company a little more than a year ago, she missed her regular mammogram, so followed up with one last April, about three years after her last screening. “I was thinking it would be nothing, as usual,” she said. Instead, she was called back in for a second mammogram, then a biopsy. Even then she was unprepared for the news her doctor shared with her: She had cancer. “When you hear it, your first thought is, ‘I can’t do this,’” Rognan said, explaining the thing she probably feared most in the world was having cancer. “Then you make the decision to either fight or give up,” she said. “Now you deal with it.” Rognan’s physician, Dr. Leah Oman, general surgeon/breast surgeon at Whidbey General Hospital, was the person to break the news and also the first to give her hope. “She took my hand and said ‘You’re going to be fine.’ And I believed her,” Rognan said. And that’s when her fight for freedom began.

Diagnosis According to Oman, Rognan had a “moderately differentiated, invasive duct carcinoma,” which she described as basic, garden-variety breast cancer.

“Meaning it’s kind of middle-of-the-road, it doesn’t grow too quickly, but it doesn’t grow slowly, either,” Oman said, clearly not meaning to minimize the significance of the diagnosis. “Gail’s tumor was 2.5 centimeters — that’s moderate to big. We like to find them less than 1 centimeter.” Treatment options for Rognan included a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, followed by a course of radiation treatments, or a mastectomy, the removal of the breast. “Those options are available for everyone,” Oman said. “Although if the tumor is too big for us to be able to get a healthy margin around it with a lumpectomy, we would have to perform a mastectomy.” After careful consideration of her options, which for Rognan included considering whether she would be able to work while undergoing radiation therapy, she decided to have a double mastectomy, which some might consider an extreme course of treatment. “I felt like that was the right decision for me,” Rognan said, adding that she did a lot of reading about it and talked to several people so she felt she was making an informed decision. “I told people they may not agree with my decision, but at least they could support me.”

Finding a new family A private person, Rognan said she wasn’t sure who to talk to about her diagnosis. She wound up finding much of her support from co-workers. “I was looking for a community and found a family here,” Rognan said. “She came to me and said ‘I’ve got to tell someone, I’ve got to get it off my chest. I

As of 2010, there are more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. The best protection is early detection.

Gail Rognan and Spark

“I feel like I have more to give in this life. I’m not done yet.” found a lump,’” said Connie Ross, administrative coordinator for Whidbey News Group. “She doesn’t like attention, so it made me feel special that she would trust me with such a personal issue and share what she was going through.”

Recovery Rognan underwent surgery in June and said she is healing well and feeling good. According to Dr. Oman, Rognan’s prognosis is excellent. Through it all, she has tried hard to maintain a positive outlook. She has written poetry for a while, which has helped her attitude. “I call them my soul poems, because they come from the inside out,” she said. “It’s really helped me focus on what’s important.” She said she has plans to take a painting class and hopes to write a book about her experiences, the title of which is a good example of an important element to her healing — humor. “I want to call it ‘I Lost Two Boobs but I Gained Two Balls,’ — oh, can you even write that in a story?” she asked, genuinely shocked she let her idea slip out. Then she explained what she means. “The cancer has released me as a person,”

she said. “I’m learning to speak up, to set better boundaries. It freed me up to be who I am. “Now I say what I mean,” she continued. “I don’t hold it inside — it’s too toxic.” Said Ross, “Humor was definitely her way of coping. She has a great sense of humor and a positive outlook.” Rognan is continuing to focus on her healing, helped in large part by her dog, Spark, and her new-found family at work. She wants other women to know they can face their fears and come out feeling stronger than they imagined. “In the deepest of pain, you find great joy,” she said. “You’re not alone. There is hope.” Dr. Oman said, “Don’t be afraid of what you don’t see. Breast cancer is not a death sentence. Think of it more like a chronic disease. It’s not fun, but it’s a journey you can take and get through.” Rognan is grateful for the support of others who have shared her experience. “We all have to help each other,” she said. “If I could do what Dr. Oman did that day, if I could hold someone’s hand and tell them they’re going to be fine, I think it would make a ton of difference to somebody. “I feel like I have more to give in this life. I’m not done yet.”


Page 2

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October is National Breast

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October 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. 85% of all diagnoses have no family history.

There’s no time to lose

E

By CHERYL SHAW

very week, more than 100 women in Washington State are diagnosed with breast cancer. Being diagnosed with this disease is as scary as you can imagine. I would know. Two years ago, I was diagnosed. Because, I had the unending support of my family, a great job with a compassionate staff, health insurance and – most importantly – an early diagnosis I was fortunate. For far too many women – and men – in our community, this is not the case. I hear these stories every day…. I hear about a woman in Renton, a single parent who received a breast cancer diagnosis. Too sick to work full time, it is a challenge to just keep a roof over her daughter’s head, let alone afford her cancer treatments. A friend in Bellevue shared a story about

her cousin who, lacking health insurance, couldn’t afford to pay for breast cancer screenings. She has just been diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer. When I hear these stories it touches me personally, and it reinforces the urgency of Komen Puget Sound’s mission. Women and families in our community are hurting today. We need to stop this madness, provide the support that they need today and find a cure for breast cancer now. Lives are at stake. There is no time to lose. All of us at Komen Puget Sound bring this personal sense of urgency to the work we do every day, as we have for nearly 20 years. Komen Puget Sound is the single largest provider of breast cancer services to women in Washington State and the largest private provider of free mammograms to low income women. Last year, Komen-funded mammograms resulted in a breast cancer diagnosis for over 240 women in our community. Our Komen Patient Assistance fund provided financial assistance to over 500 local, low income breast cancer patients, covering their basic

needs while they undergo treatment. While I am proud of what we have accomplished, I am even more mindful of all that still needs to be done. Too many of us have lost a wife, a sister, a mother, a daughter, a friend to breast cancer. While we at Komen certainly had our share of setbacks early this year, the setbacks have only strengthened our sense of urgency. We refuse to be distracted. There is too much work to do and too many women who rely on our support. Most importantly many of our donors, sponsors and volunteers understand our

O

ne hundred Western Washington women are diagnosed with breast cancer each week, which continues to be the second most frequently diagnosed cancer among women in the U.S., after skin cancer. We don’t yet know the exact causes of breast cancer, and many myths about breast cancer continue to exist. But probably the best way to prevent and survive a breast cancer diagnosis is to be informed. All women are at risk for breast cancer. Although this disease is more common in women over the age of 40, younger women can and do get breast cancer as well. To reduce risk, here are some things you should know. • If you are over 40 years old, have a mammogram. The American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and Susan G. Komen all agree that women age 40 and older should have mammograms every one to two years. Early detection is the key to survival. The five-year relative survival rate for breast cancer, when caught early, is 99 percent. When detected at the latest stage, the survival rate drops to 23 percent. • Know what is normal for you. See your health provider right away if you notice a

lump, swelling, changes in breast size or a new pain in one spot that does not go away. • Live a healthy lifestyle. Maintain a healthy weight. Add exercise to your routine. Limit your use of alcohol. Breastfeed, if you can. And, since we live in the Northwest, current studies point to maintaining a normal level of vitamin D as helpful. However, if you fear that you might be at greater risk for breast cancer because your mother or grandmother had the disease, you should know that most women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. Only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are due to inherited genetic mutations. One more thing. If you fear a breast cancer diagnosis is a death sentence, let me tell you that is also not the case. Today, there are nearly 3 million breast cancer survivors living in the US. And I am one of them. Above all, the best advice I can give is to take an active role in your own breast health. And if you are over 40 years old, and have yet to be been screened for breast cancer, do it today. There is no time to lose.

Elisa Del Rosario is Komen Puget Sound Director of Grants, Education and Advocacy.

Cheryl Shaw is executive director of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

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urgency and continue to help during this critical time. But it is clear that we need increased support to ensure that every woman faced with breast cancer is not a victim of the setbacks we have experienced. Together we can win our fight and end breast cancer forever. To learn more about Komen Puget Sound and our mission, please visit us online at komenpugetsound.org. And please do so today. There’s no time to lose.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October 2012

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fter losing both of her sisters to breast cancer, Marilyn Norby is empowering her daughter’s generation to learn, be proactive and face a potential genetic threat head on.

The youngest of three girls, the Langley woman spent the first years of her life idolizing her two older sisters Jeane and Linda – never imagining that one day she would be the sole survivor of the trio. “Jeane passed away at 55,” Norby said. Her sister was struck with the disease at only 38. Jeane initially kept the truth from her family, and battled breast cancer for more than a decade before losing the fight. Then in 2005, Norby’s sister Linda was attacked by a more aggressive form of the disease at age 60 – passing away at 61. It was a shock. “She was gone within the year,” Norby recalled. Their shared gene pool made Norby a high-risk candidate for the same fate. Determined to learn, Norby joined the Sisters Study – a national study to learn how environment and genes affect the chances of getting breast cancer.  The South Whidbey Record featured Norby’s story during Breast Cancer Awareness month when she first signed up in 2007. The Sister Study is the only long-term

study of women ages 35 to 74 who have never had breast cancer themselves but whose biological sisters were diagnosed with the disease. A total of 50,000 women have joined the effort to find the causes of breast cancer and regularly share medical updates and other information with the researchers. At the halfway point of the study, Norby has learned that her sisters are still her teachers even after their deaths. She has become a mentor to the next generation of women in her family. “I have educated my daughter and nieces – I have four adult nieces,” Norby said. “When I first started out, I learned about cousins and aunts that had battled the disease. I would have never known,” she said. There is a high occurrence in her family. Norby not only lost her sisters, but she had lost her mother to cancer when she was only 11. The more she drudged through her family health history – guided by study questionnaires – Norby learned that breast cancer had occurred unusually often in her family. She encourages dialog and has taught her daughter and nieces that information is power. “I think this is what families need to do,” Norby said. “We really need to talk about it.” Norby said the research that more and more younger women have breast cancer, and awareness, allows for early detection and can save lives. According to the American Cancer Society, only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers occur in women with a clearly defined genetic predisposition for the disease – but those who have knowledge of their family history may have a better chance of See SISTERS, PAGE 5


October 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Page 5

For women in their 20s and 30s, it’s recommended that clinical breast examination be part of a periodic health examination, at least every three years.

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Access to screening Norby said being part of this study and several others, including CARE: Cancer Risk Reduction Education Study through the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and FORCE (Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered) for women with hereditary risks, has opened up doors and access to screening tools. The CARE study allowed her and other women in the family to take a look at their genetic makeup. “I was invited to bring my daughter and nieces for genetic counseling,” Norby said. “That was wonderful. It allowed them to ask questions and learn. Now they are armed with information,” she said. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women after skin cancer. About 1 in 8 women (12 percent) will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2012, about 226,870 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer and about 39,510 will die from it.  It’s been seven years since breast cancer cut Linda’s life short. Since the loss of her

sisters, Norby has been fortunate not to lose any more members of her family to the disease and year after year her checkups come back negative, she said. She gets an MRI and mammogram more frequently than the average woman. “I am under surveillance every six months,” she said. “I feel really fortunate to have access to these preventative services. I feel relaxed.” Norby was tested for the gene mutation that caused breast cancer in her sisters and her results showed negative. Since entering the study, she has tested negative for BREA 1 and BREA 2. “Which is a good thing,” Norby said, but there is more information to be unearthed. “But we would know more if we could get my sister’s DNA tested.” Norby explained that at the time her sister Linda passed away the family banked some DNA for future research but the analyses is very expensive so this has not happened yet. This analysis would make it possible to more clearly assess Norby’s risk profile and that of other family members. As Norby continues to learn about the disease that has taken so many from her family, she said she is happy to share her story and support others – and maybe one day some of the data gathered in the research studies will lead to a cure. “I’ll enter any study if they ask me,” Norby said.

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Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October 2012

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October 2012

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Page 7

Studies show that women who exercise more than six hours per week had a 23% reduction in breast cancer risk. Find an exercise buddy and get moving.

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N

orth Whidbey Soroptimists are doing their share to stamp out breast cancer by providing funds to make mammograms accessible to local women.

“It’s an issue that affects one in eight woman,” said Peggy Whitford, a member and past president of the Soroptimists International of Oak Harbor. “Every Soroptimist has lost somebody, known somebody, been touched by the disease. Some have battled it themselves. It’s important to us.” Two years ago, the club reopened their mammography fund, which is intended to support women living on North Whidbey for whom diagnostic mammography services are unaffordable. Whitford said that the women of the Oak Harbor Soroptimists are deeply committed to early intervention as a means to save women’s lives from breast cancer. “Many women have no access to mammograms,” Whitford said. “We want to give women the opportunity to get the screening.” The Soroptimists know funds are limited and the need for services is great. For that reason, the club has asked Whidbey General Hospital Foundation to manage the Soroptimist Mammography Fund within the new eligibility guidelines: z The woman must reside within the 98277 zip code z Not eligible to receive care at Naval Hospital Oak Harbor

z Not eligible for services funded by Citrine Health z Not eligible to receive mammography services funded by DSHS medical coupons z Fit within income guidelines z Has no medical insurance coverage or has medical insurance coverage with a deductible of $500 z Is 40 years or older to receive a screening, or has a family history that would warrant early screening z Services must be provided by Whidbey General Hospital Diagnostic Imaging Department. Whitford encouraged all women to discuss this option and others with their health care provider, or approach any Soroptimist to learn more. “I think another reason why we feel so strongly about it is because it is treatable,” Whitford said.

Improving the lives of women and girls The goal of screening exams for early breast cancer detection is to find cancers before they start to cause symptoms. Breast cancers that are found because they are causing symptoms tend to be larger and are more likely to have already spread beyond the breast. In contrast, breast cancers found during screening exams are more likely to be smaller and still confined to the breast. Survival chances are higher. Most doctors feel that early detection tests for breast cancer save thousands of lives each year, and that many more lives could be

“I think another reason why we feel so strongly about it is that it’s treatable. ”

saved if even more women and their health care providers took advantage of these tests. Taking on breast cancer certainly fits the Soroptomist mission of improving the lives of women and girls in local communities and throughout the world. However, Whitford said that while breast cancer is mostly associated with women, the cancer also affects men. “Everybody should be checking,” she said. Whitford also said that the organization relies on the community to support the fund. Donations can be made to Soroptimists of Oak Harbor, PO Box 893, Oak Harbor, WA 98277. For more information, email the organization at sioakharbor@ soroptimist.com.

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Page 8

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

October 2012

Together we can make a difference. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Early detection is key The importance of screening and prevention

F

by Robert Hawkins, MD

or so many women, there is no more dreaded disease than breast cancer. Breast cancer elicits fears related to loss of body image and sexuality, surgery, and death. As is the case for most cancers, the exact cause of breast cancer is not clearly known. Furthermore, there is currently no cure for advanced disease, and there is no definitive way of preventing it. Breast cancer also affects men. Male breast cancer accounts for about 1 percent of all breast cancers. Around 229,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year in women in the

U.S., while about 2,200 cases are diagnosed in men.

It is treatable Compared to other cancers, breast cancer is on the more treatable end of the spectrum if diagnosed early. It is considered a “favorable” cancer because it can be detected early by breast examination or by mammography. Studies have clearly shown that the smaller the size of the breast cancer when detected, the better the chance of a surgical cure and long-term survival. The likelihood of a cure is also higher if the cancer is removed before it has spread to lymph nodes and other

organs such as the lungs, liver, bones, and brain. Currently, mammography and breast examinations serve as the foundation for screening for breast cancer. It is extremely important for a woman to have regular breast examinations as well as mammograms to detect early breast cancer.

Healthy behavior helps We now have strong evidence that an individual’s risk of developing cancer can be substantially reduced by healthy behavior: not using tobacco, getting sufficient physical activity, eating healthy foods in moderation, and participating in cancer screening

according to recommended guidelines. The American Cancer Society estimates that of the 565,650 cancer deaths expected per year, about 170,000 cancer deaths will be caused by tobacco use alone, and another third can be attributed to poor eating habits, overweight and obesity, and physical inactivity. If we can effectively promote healthy behaviors, much of the suffering and death from cancer can be prevented or reduced.

Digital screening at WGH Digital mammography can detect breast cancer at its earliest, most curable stages and WGH offers screening digital mammography at their main campus in Coupeville as well as at Whidbey General North in Oak Harbor and Whidbey General South in Clinton. To schedule your screening mammogram call 360-678-7607 option 1 and for more information call 360678-7656 ext 2301 or 321-7656 ext 2301. Dr. Hawkins is a radiologist with Whidbey General Hospital.

EARLY DETECTION SAVES LIVES Whidbey General Hospital Committed to providing the women of our community the highest quality of care anywhere. That’s why we are proud to have Digital Mammography the most advanced mammographic imaging technology available for the early detection of breast cancer. Digital Mammography is available at our Coupeville location as well as Whidbey General South in Clinton and Whidbey General North in Oak Harbor.

Meet Whidbey General Hospital's General Surgeon, Dr. Leah Oman. Dr. Oman brings extensive expertise in both the Prevention and Treatment of Breast related diseases.

For more information or to schedule an appointment for your annual mammogram, please call 360-678-7607. For South End, please call 360-321-7656 ext. 2317.

Healthcare Excellence Close To Home


Think Pink - Breast Cancer Awareness 2012