By Kristina Houck
Although she was only 39 years old and breast cancer didn’t run in her family, Laurie Lovell decided to perform a breast self-exam one evening in April while lying in bed. She found a lump.
A needle biopsy later confirmed the lump was breast cancer, and a magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, detected a second tumor. Lovell had a double mastectomy and is now undergoing chemotherapy.
“My doctor literally told me I saved my life,” said Lovell, now 40. “Now that I’m going through my experience, I feel that women should be tested earlier than 40 because more and more younger women are getting breast cancer now. I also feel it’s so important for women to request and push for a breast MRI. If they wouldn’t have done the MRI, they would have just done a lumpectomy on the one tumor and I would have never known.”
In a breast cancer seminar dedicated to Lovell, radiologist Dr. Richard Reitherman, surgeon Dr. Michele Carpenter, surgeon Dr. Jane Kakkis and genetic counselor Sandra Brown will speak about early detection and the recurrence of breast cancer Sept 18 at St. Therese of Carmel Catholic Church in Carmel Valley.
“I dedicated the event to Laurie because she signifies a person who is too young to qualify for a mammogram, who thankfully took the initiative to do a breast exam, discovered her breast cancer herself and also got a breast MRI, which saved her life,” said Carmel Valley resident Lynn Flanagan, a breast cancer survivor for more than 16 years.
Flanagan’s breast cancer support group, Linked by Lynn, is sponsoring the event.
“I’m a passionate advocate for anybody diagnosed with breast cancer,” Flanagan said. “I encourage them to be proactive about their disease. I want them to understand exactly what’s going on and get the best appropriately aggressive treatment combined with the most knowledgeable breast cancer medical team.”
Like Lovell’s second tumor, many breast cancers do not show up on a mammogram. Breast density can make a developing cancer hard to detect and also increase a woman’s risk.
Gov. Jerry Brown in 2012 signed a law that requires health care facilities to notify women categorized as having dense breast tissue about their condition. The law, which went into effect this year, is designed to improve breast cancer detection and prevention by educating patients about dense breast tissue and how it could conceal possible abnormalities during mammographic procedures.
Reitherman, the keynote speaker, will discuss the law and present a new method of evaluating a woman’s breast cancer risk as well as outline appropriate surveillance methods, even in young women.
“I think that all of this knowledge is publicly available, but to have an option to ask questions and interact is very beneficial,” said Reitherman, who has been a radiologist for 25 years. “This knowledge could save their life or somebody else’s life. It’s life-saving information.”
Brown, manager of the Cancer Genetics Program at St. Joseph Hospital and Mission Hospital in Orange, Calif., will talk about the differences in occurrences of cancers, including a sporadic event, a moderate risk and an inherited risk.
“A lot of times women feel very threatened, fatalistic, about their family history, which sometimes leads to really inappropriate coping mechanisms. Sometimes women don’t want to do a mammogram because of their family history. It’s kind of a denial mechanism,” Brown said. “Genetic counseling is actually an empowering process. We can do something about it.”
Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2009, 211,731 women in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer, and 40,676 died from the disease, according to the CDC.
“Every woman who lives long enough in the United States is going to be faced with breast cancer, whether it’s their relative, friend or themselves,” Carpenter said. “The more information you have and the more you know about it, the more powerful it is in being able to help direct your own healthcare.”
The presentations will begin at 7 p.m. followed by a question and answer session with the speakers Sept 18 at St. Therese of Carmel Catholic Church, 4355 Del Mar Trails Road, San Diego. All are welcome to attend the event.
“Knowing this information could truly save your life,” Lovell said. “I really hope people understand that just by looking at me. I’m an example of it.”