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Beating Breast Cancer

Stunned by a cancer diagnosis, Carol comes up swinging

carol swinging golf clubCarol Schimmel’s personality radiates through a room. After just one short chat over a cup of tea you walk away with a hug and a new friend. Her positivity is positively refreshing.

Carol is a native of Athens. She is a mother and a grandmother. She has lived a happy, healthy life. Priding herself on preventative health care, Carol has had routine mammograms for years, never missing a beat, despite no family history of breast cancer to speak of.

A second look

At 56 years old Carol went to her gynecologist for her annual mammogram. She was surprised to be referred to St. Mary’s for a better look at one particular spot of concern.

Her experience at St. Mary’s was positive from the start. St. Mary’s Women’s Imaging suites combine the latest technology with the convenience, comfort and privacy that are imperative to making a woman feel at ease.

Carol’s husband, Ed, was by her side when they arrived at St. Mary’s Women’s Imaging Center. “I asked my mammography tech if Ed could come back to the exam room with me. She said, ‘Of course he can!’ and that was just what I needed to calm any nerves,” Carol explains. “I needed that comfort just an arm’s length away.”

“From the beginning the staff talked to Ed and I openly and honestly,” Carol says. “That’s all I could have asked for.”

Facing fears

Following her diagnostic mammogram, St. Mary’s staff asked Carol to return for a core biopsy to further evaluate the suspicious spot. Carol’s radiologist, Brigid Gerety, MD, performed the test.

“The nerves finally hit me when it came to the biopsy,” Carol says. The compassion and sincerity shown by Dr. Gerety and the staff at St. Mary’s eased her mind. “It was like they knew all the questions I would ask before I even asked them,” she says. “They were proactive in my care so I didn’t have time to worry.”

“If a potential cancer shows up in a scan we get patients back in immediately,” shares Jeff Brown, director of radiology and cardiology services at St. Mary’s. “Whether it’s for an ultrasound or a biopsy, we can get you in that day, and not a lot of places I’ve worked in the past have had that kind of urgency. That is the best philosophy to go by.”

Soon after the biopsy, Carol was diagnosed with DCIS, or ductal carcinoma in situ, a cancer in the milk duct of the breast and one of the earliest forms of breast cancer.

Carol says, “At this point the staff at St. Mary’s Women’s Imaging Center felt like sisters to me. I asked them, ‘What does this mean?’ Dr. Gerety told me: ‘Carol, this is going to be a bump in the road. We’re going to get through it.’ I believed her.”

“A bump in the road”

On August 4, 2009, Carol returned to St. Mary’s for her lumpectomy. “I arrived for surgery very afraid of the unknown, but I knew I was safe. I knew St. Mary’s was where I needed to be.”

Breast health staff were there to greet her and ready to ease any apprehensions. “The consistency is what I think really set St. Mary’s apart,” Carol says. “Each time I would step foot on the campus I saw a nurse I was familiar with, who knew me.”

Carol felt like the only patient in the hospital the morning of her surgery. “My husband and I go on golf trips often. Sometimes we hit a course on a slow day and we’re the only people around. On those days Ed will tell me he rented the whole course just for us,” she says with a smile. “That’s how I felt about my surgery experience at St. Mary’s. I was not the only person having surgery that day, but the care I received made me feel that way.”

Carol’s surgery went well. The cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes, making the “bump in the road” quite a bit easier to navigate.

Breast friends”

Carol underwent seven weeks of radiology treatments, the usual course of treatment for her disease. She confided in St. Mary’s breast health nurses or, as she calls them, her “breast friends,” throughout treatment and in the months to follow. In August, Carol will be two years cancer-free.

Carol returned to St. Mary’s for a mammogram recently. The scan was performed on St. Mary’s state-of-the-art digital mammography machine.

“Digital mammography has made an enormous difference in image quality, particularly for women like Carol who are at high risk or have had breast cancer in the past,” Brown shares. St. Mary’s began offering digital mammography in 2005 and has recently added two brand new machines. Brown continues, “For a breast cancer survivor, reassurance that your hospital offers the best technology available makes a great difference.”

“I had a scare earlier this year,” Carol says. “Dr. Gerety performed a biopsy and the same crew was with me every step of the way. This time though, no cancer. Dr. Gerety called and said ‘Carol, stop the presses! There is no cancer.’ I could breathe a sigh of relief.”

Moving on from cancer

Has life changed for Carol post-breast cancer? She still takes her granddaughter to school every morning. She still makes time for golf and exercise. She just does it all with a little more “life” in her.

“A cancer diagnosis does not have to end life as you know it,” she says. “Educate yourself, stay away from internet horror stories, and hopefully, end up at St. Mary’s Women’s Imaging Center where they will take care of you, the whole you, inside and out.”

St. Mary’s Women’s Imaging Center offers digital mammography at two convenient locations in Athens at St. Mary’s Hospital and St. Mary’s Outpatient Diagnostic, Rehab and Wellness Center. Breast MRI and MRI-guided biopsies are available at the Baxter Street hospital location. Caring staff includes a specially trained breast health nurse and registered mammography and ultrasound technologists for comfort and reassurance during screening and in the case of breast cancer diagnosis. St. Mary’s Health Care System includes fully accredited, state-of-the-art surgical facilities, high speed CT and bone densitometry on site. For more information on St. Mary’s Women’s Imaging Center please visit the webpage or call 706-389-2309.