Two women, one disease: The importance of annual breast cancer screenings
Two close encounters with breast cancer reaffirm how necessary preventive screenings are.
Consuelo D’Avanzo-Ordo is a 58-year-old nurse. Lori Jo Vest is a 56-year-old author, business owner and digital marketing specialist.
The two women don’t know each other, but they share a profound connection: breast cancer changed the course of their lives. And, their personal stories prove breast cancer self-exams and routine annual mammograms can save lives.
Story No. 1: Consuelo D’Avanzo-Ordo
Learning from her mother’s breast cancer journey
Consuelo D’Avanzo-Ordo was in nursing school when she got the news that her 48-year-old mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. In quick succession, she watched her mother endure a radical mastectomy and chemotherapy.
Sadly, her mother lost the battle with breast cancer and died eight years later. Preventive measures have been at the forefront of D’Avanzo-Ordo’s mind ever since.
“I would go to the doctor’s offices with her when I was home from school and learn by listening to the oncologist,” she said. “The doctor told me I should start getting a mammogram, so that’s what I did.”
D’Avanzo-Ordo was only in her early 20s at the time, but she went that year and every single year after that. Because of her mother’s history of breast cancer, her insurance company covered the cost of the exams. Although she also did self-exams, D’Avanzo-Ordo learned mammograms were critical because, like many women, she has dense, fibrocystic breasts. Dense breasts can make it difficult to feel a lump during a self-exam.
In 2012, her doctors performed a biopsy that detected abnormal precancerous cells. Those cells were removed, and the discovery led to her doctors recommending an MRI to look for other possible tumors. Luckily, they haven’t found any, but D’Avanzo-Ordo remans vigilant.
“I don’t want to take my health for granted,” she said. “I thank God every day for my health.”
She also stressed women shouldn’t let concerns about insurance get in the way of an annual mammogram. As a volunteer for Beaumont’s annual golf outing to raise money for women’s breast cancer programs, D’Avanzo-Ordo is intimately familiar with efforts to make sure women get screened.
“I know women that don’t have health insurance, and I tell them screening is available,” she said. “There are so many options out there for women that they need to be aware of. Education is key.”
Story No. 2: Lori Jo Vest
Researching as she goes and spreading the word about self-exams
If you’re behind Lori Jo Vest at a traffic light, you’ll notice a bumper sticker on her car that says “boobs.” Look a little more closely, and you’ll see that the fine print extends the phrase: “Check your boobs. Mine tried to kill me.”
Vest was diagnosed with stage 1 triple-negative breast cancer in August 2018, and she’s currently six months out of treatment. She considers herself lucky because she caught her breast cancer so early.
Vest was watching a local morning news show and saw a segment about self-exams. At the time, Vest hadn’t had a mammogram in several years.
“I got busier at work, and I started a business, and I wrote a book, and (a mammogram) got back-burnered. Self-care with women is something that often gets back-burnered,” she said. “I was like, ‘I can do that next year’ — and before you know it, you think it was last year, but it was four or five years ago, because time goes by when you’re busy.”
Vest did a quick self-exam after watching the segment, and she noticed a lump around her armpit. Even so, it took her some time to follow up with a doctor. She assumed it was just a cyst, but a biopsy later confirmed that lump was cancer.
Even though she had a grandmother with breast cancer, she had attributed it to old age and never thought much about her own genetic risk. The more she researched the disease, though, the more she realized breast cancer can strike anyone, at any age. Now, Vest encourages other women to do self-exams and get mammograms, even if they think they’re not at risk.
“There are a lot of young women that get breast cancer in their 20s and 30s. There may not be any in your direct sphere, but we all need to do our self-exams, even if you’re not 40,” she said.
“I’m lucky I’m alive. I was just lucky.”
For more information about Beaumont's Comprehensive Breast Care Centers and how to schedule a mammogram, visit beaumont.org/mammogram.