It's rare that one can use the word "lucky" to describe having had breast cancer, but that is just how Teri Janzen feels these days.
She feels lucky because she did not have to undergo chemo therapy and radiation treatment.
The 54 year-old Augusta native was diagnosed last year with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. She has almost completed the reconstruction process.
"Due to breast density and recommendation by my gynecologist, I began having regular mammograms when I was 30 years old. Then I began having a mammogram every six months. I got used to having the tests and waiting to be told everything looked fine," she explained.
But everything wasn't fine last year when something abnormal appeared on the mammogram.
"It seemed like a slow process. I waited and worried. They ran several tests - including a biopsy and a MRI. When they found the mass, then everything quickly sped up."
She shared that the worst day was when she was waiting for the MRI results and in a phone conversation with her surgeon's nurse, was told that all the tests were negative. No cancer was found. Later that same day while at work, she received a call from the surgeon informing her that the nurse had read the chart incorrectly and that she indeed did have cancer and would need treatment immediately.
Teri has worked in the Department of Corrections for 33 years and is currently an Administrative Captain at the Winfield Correctional Facility, where she has served for about 15 years.
"I work in a male dominated work place. I've been there a long time and we're a big family. My co-workers were sincerely worried and I wasn't going to keep it a big mystery. Besides, they wanted to know what was going on. They've been very supportive through it all," she said.
She also considers herself fortunate to have had a job with good health insurance which provided preventative care.
Teri never hesitated in stepping up to battle cancer and coming face to face with her own mortality. She knew too well how life can change in an instant. She had experienced something much worse.
Ten years ago this week she endured the death of her oldest son, Tyler. He was only 18.
"The worst thing imaginable had already happened to me. Cancer? It was nothing," she said softly.
Because of her steely determination, she tended to downplay her illness. She told herself that because her younger son, Tanner and her husband Jack had lost Tyler, she didn't want them to worry about losing her as well.
"Jack really stepped up during my recovery. He was so much help. And I had friends, including Becky Williamson, who rallied around me and offered advice. And my sister Penny came to help, too."
Page 2 of 2 - Teri explained that in addition to regular mammograms and check-ups, everyone also needs to know their medical history. During her journey with cancer, Teri discovered that she had lost two grandmothers to uterine cancer and some researchers feel that some types of cancer are closely related.
Fortunately, results from BRCA gene testing were negative for her and her sisters.
She remembers the joy and relief she felt when the oncologist informed her that only surgery would be necessary due to the diligent mammograms twice a year. and the agressive action.
The plastic surgeon gave her options, but she chose the double mastectomy in order to completely remove all the affected area. The decision proved hard. She had days where she felt despair and didn't like depending on others for help. But her choice alleviates fear of recurrence.
The reconstruction process was never a question for her.
She said proudly, "I've only got one more procedure and then I'm done."
What would she tell others in the same situation?
"You deal with the surgery, the stitches and the inconveniences," she added with a smile, "You just get over yourself. After all you're alive."
Each year, approximately 200,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer, and one in nine American women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. (www.breastcenter.com)
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease. While most people are aware of breast cancer, many forget to take the steps to have a plan to detect the disease in its early stages and encourage others to do the same.