By Jeffrey C. Doepp, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic Public Affairs
NORFOLK (NNS) -- Understanding the importance of breast cancer awareness was the first step for two Naval Facilities Engineering Command Mid-Atlantic employees currently traveling the breast cancer survival road.
Civil Engineer Supervisor Mary Ann DuRant and Administrative Support Assistant Helena Harrington of NAVFAC MIDLANT Marine Corps Integrated Product Team, share some of their personal experiences with battling breast cancer to help underline the importance of early awareness and detection.
Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Although most women who get breast cancer have no known risk factors and no history of the disease in their families, this was not the case for DuRant.
"After I turned 40, I became very vigilant because there is a history of breast cancer in my family," said DuRant, a Virginia Beach native and 10-year government service employee. "My mom and my two cousins died from breast cancer."
Getting mammograms regularly can lower the risk of dying from breast cancer. The United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends that if you are 50 to 74 years old, be sure to have a screening mammogram every two years. If you are 40 to 49 years old, talk to your doctor about when to start and how often to get a screening mammogram.
"I cannot emphasize enough about getting a mammogram and doing monthly self-examinations," DuRant said. "About a year ago, I had a routine mammogram that first detected a lump. I had no other symptoms. It came as a complete shock and surprise to me. After further testing, I was diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer and I had a lumpectomy. I received chemotherapy followed by daily radiation treatments. Now, for the next five years, I'm taking the medication Tamoxifen."
There are different symptoms of breast cancer, and some people have no symptoms at all. Symptoms can include any change in the size or the shape of the breast, pain in any area of the breast, nipple discharge other than breast milk (including blood), and a new lump in the breast or underarm. In April 2007, Harrington experienced one of these symptoms and saw a doctor immediately.
"I had a discharge-it was very alarming-I got so worried," said Harrington, a City of Victorias, Negros Occidental, Philippines native. "I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. I cried and prayed every day for God's strength and provision. I underwent a breast mastectomy the following month."
Harrington's battle with breast cancer didn't end there as she had a recurrence in 2012. This time the treatment was more extensive to include not only more surgery, but three months of chemotherapy and the hormone medication Anastrolzole, which is used for treatment in those at high risk. Move ahead four years and she is dealing with still another recurrence.
"In September 2016, just five months into my job here at NAVFAC, I began getting dizzy, having migraines, and throwing up," Harrington said. "I was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer and am presently undergoing chemotherapy."
DuRant and Harrington cannot stress enough the importance of regular checkups and follow-up appointments, particularly after being diagnosed and the importance of taking care of your health every day.
"Proper nutrition, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, get a good night's sleep, avoid over exposure to the sun, and minimize stress, if at all possible. These are just a few things that will lower the risk and help us live a healthy life," Harrington said.
"Early detection is key," DuRant said. "A year has passed since my last fateful mammogram and I just returned from another mammogram earlier this month. It was clear, thank goodness."