Ryan Scott Ottney
PDT Staff Writer
After a scare with breast cancer in 2011, Connie George, of Franklin Furnace, urges women to have their regular mammograms; but waiting just a few months might also have saved her life.
George received her mammogram order in August of 2010. Normally she wouldn’t put off that kind of checkup but this time, she said, she felt like there was something wrong and she wasn’t ready to face it yet — not with a cruise vacation coming up, and then the holidays. So she waited until January of 2011. That can sometimes be a bad idea, but this time her reticence might have paid off.
“They called me the next day and told me, ‘Connie, we want to take a better look’,” George said.
She has worked at Southern Ohio Medical Center in Portsmouth since 1965, fresh out of high school. Today she’s the secretary in the emergency services departments, and she’s seen a lot of different cases over the years. She looked at her medical records and she knew immediately what she was looking at.
“I was like, ‘oh crap.’ It said spiculated lesions, and you don’t ever want to see that word on your mammogram. I know what that means. I know a solid tumor with spiculated borders is not good,” she said.
After several tests, just to be sure, doctors confirmed what George already knew in her gut; she had breast cancer. The good news was that they had caught it early. So early, in fact, if she had gone for her regular order in August of 2010 it might not have even shown up yet — and then she would have waited 12 or 18 months until her next exam, and by then it might have been much worse.
“I came out of there crying. It was such a shock because I saw that solid lesion with irregular borders, and I asked Dr. (Janan) Alkilidar, could it be a fibroangioma, which will also sometimes show up as a solid lesion. She said, ‘honey, it has malignant characteristics.’ I knew she knew. And I knew,” George said. “I came out of that room and I went out into the hallway and I almost collapsed, I was crying so hard.”
George was very afraid of having to endure chemotherapy and its long-term side effects. Luckily it was still small enough that she was able to avoid that option, and instead had a lumpectomy surgery and just six weeks of radiation treatment at the SOMC Cancer Center in Portsmouth. Through it all, she said her family and co-workers were very supportive.
“I came to work everyday. I really rarely had any side effects, except the last two weeks I was very tired. A couple of days I would come in here (to work) and turn out the lights and lay down. I would lay my head down on the desk for about a half-hour or so, then I’d get up and go,” she said.
She said the staff at SOMC all treated her wonderfully, and she was amazed at how far treatment has come.
“The radiation treatments, you go, get undressed, get on the table. Two minutes, you’re done. That shocked me. I thought it would be a bad process. It was nothing like what I thought it was going to be. To me it was just like having a bad cold,” George said.
Even though George is in remission now, she maintains her regular mammograms. Earlier this year she thought the cancer might have returned, which she said scared her even more than the last time because this would almost certainly mean chemo and full mastectomy. Thankfully, she said, all turned out well after all.
“One of my best friends is going through chemo now. She’s got breast cancer. When we talked about it, she said, ‘You were so strong going through it. You dealt with it so well.’ and I said, ‘No. Have you cried a million tears?’” George said. “It’s still very emotional to talk about because it was such a shock. I’m healthy. I’ve never had anything wrong with me. Then all of the sudden you’re dealing with, ‘Hey, I have cancer’.”
George said she has female friends who tell her they’ve never had a mammogram, and she urges them and every women to have them done regularly.
“It saved my life. If I had not have had it done, and if she (Dr. Alkilidar) had not been so particular in looking at them like she did, who knows what would have been. It would have been another year gone by, because chances are I wouldn’t have felt it because it was so deep. My message to women out there is, do not go without your mammograms. Please,” she said.
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories noting the triumphs of local women defeating breast cancer in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Ryan Scott Ottney may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 287, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Ryan on Twitter @PDTwriter.