MARQUETTE - Over the course of a lifetime, women run a 1 in 8 risk of developing breast cancer.
It's a significant statistic and an overwhelming diagnosis for many women, according to Shirley Jackson, breast care coordinator at Marquette General Hospital.
"In the beginning it's just very overwhelming. It's considered a catastrophic illness," she said. "It's something that people are not usually prepared to deal with, the complexity of the decision-making that takes place during the first couple weeks."
Shirley Jackson, right, breast care coordinator at Marquette General Hospital, talks to Sue Dionne, who is battling breast cancer. (Marquette General Hospital photo)
Jackson's job is to guide patients through their treatment, from beginning to end. She serves as a bridge between them and the hospital. Last year, Jackson assisted about 250 breast cancer patients. As she helps them make some of the most difficult decisions in the life, she often finds that she develops a friendship with the women she sees.
"We often develop a relationship because we work closely through a difficult time in their life. And as they go through treatment we keep in touch," she said.
Sue Dionne of Marquette and Jackie Pauls of Ishpeming are two women who recently went through breast cancer treatment. Dionne, 52, was diagnosed in January 2009 and immediately met with a surgeon who told her she'd need a double mastectomy. She had surgery the following week.
"In the beginning it's just very overwhelming. It's considered a catastrophic illnes
breast care coordinator at MGH
Jackson worked with her immediately following the surgeon's pathology report. Dionne said Jackson, with her knowledge and years of experience with breast cancer patients, served as an inspiration. A registered dietician with MGH, Dionne returned to work soon after her surgery.
It was difficult at times, she said.
"There were times when I would run down to Shirley's office and just cry or vent," Dionne said. "If you have anxiety, she calms you down right away. I also had a hard surgery, and she was my go-to person whenever I had complications and didn't understand what was going on. She always helped me rationalize my decisions."
Pauls, 47, was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2008. Jackson provided pamphlets, videos and other educational materials to Pauls and her family.
"My whole family knew her. She was always reassuring to everyone - my mom, my husband, even my childhood friend who was going through chemotherapy at the same time as me," Pauls said. "I went through so many different appointments, and she was at nearly every one."
Pauls, a registered nurse at Jacobetti Home for Veterans, also returned to work soon after surgery. She continued to work with Jackson as well as a health psychologist to help her deal with the stress.
Jackson said MGH offers a breast cancer support group that meets every month. The meetings can be teleconferenced to outlying areas like L'Anse or Newberry.
Jackson, who has been a cancer nurse for many years, passed the first certified breast care nurse examination last year, making her one of just 120 certified breast care nurses in the nation and the only one in the Upper Peninsula.
"Over that period of time I've been able to work with a lot of very educated people that have taught me a lot of things," she said.
Breast cancer is the most common type of non-skin cancer in women. Although women are 100 times more likely to get it than men, 1 percent to 2 percent of men are diagnosed with it.
Jackson said the risk of breast cancer increases as a person ages. At age 20 the probably of developing breast cancer in the next 10 years is one in 1,760. At age 50 the risk is 1 in 42. At age 70 the risk is 1 in 27. Combined, the risk, over the course of a lifetime, is 1 in 8, Jackson said.
She said the American Cancer Society recommends, if a woman so chooses, a self breast exam when a person is in their 20s.
She said a mammogram for a normal at-risk woman is recommended for a baseline by age 40 with a yearly checkup after that. Women with a family history of breast cancer should have tests done earlier than that but follow the advice of their physician, she said.
The Marquette General Cancer Center offers services throughout the U.P. For more information on breast cancer resources, call 225-3996 or 1-800-562-9753 ext. 3996. For general cancer information, please call 225-3500 or 1-800-562-9753, ext. 3500, or visit www.mgh.org/cancer.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org