Most women would be rattled by a suspicious finding on their routine mammogram. Not Sandra Baggette. “I have learned to just deal with what I have to deal with,” says Sandra, a 74-year-old Port Royal resident. “It’s important to address the problem.”
The mother of four and wife of a retired Marine colonel has enjoyed the challenge of 21 moves over the course of her husband’s 30 years in the military. But at age 38, she faced one of the most difficult times in her life.
The day before she was getting ready to move the family from Virginia to California, Sandra learned she had a gynecologic dysplasia, an abnormal growth of precancerous cells. On the heels of the October move came appointment delays, the holidays, a biopsy and ultimately a complete hysterectomy, in large part because of inconclusive biopsy results.
“There was no choice,” she says. “At that time [it was 1978] you just did it.” It wasn’t till six anxiety-filled weeks after the surgery that Sandra learned no abnormalities had been found in her other organs.
“I am truly thankful for the advances in medicine today,” she says. The experience taught her to be her own advocate and keep up with preventive health care. Although she has no family history of breast cancer, she has made sure to get a screening mammogram every year. It had always come back clear until 16 or 17 years ago, when the X-ray revealed a possible abnormality.
“I had to go in for two mammograms and saw the doctor twice before I found out it was nothing,” Sandra says. She waited a week to get the results.
In 2013, she had another cancer scare. The professional artist and master gardener had put off her yearly screening to prepare her yard for the Beaufort Garden Club’s “Garden-a-Day” tour. “I was working really hard on the garden and didn’t make my annual mammogram in the spring when I normally do it,” she says. “But I knew enough not to slough it off for too long.”
In July, she made an appointment for the screening at Beaufort Memorial’s Women’s Imaging Center. “I wasn’t worried about it,” Sandra recalls. “I expected it to be fine.” At the Women’s Imaging Center, an on-site radiologist reviews every X-ray as soon as it is taken, enabling the mammography facility to offer same-day results. Once the screening is completed, patients are asked to stay in their gown in a private waiting room while the radiologist checks their digital images.
Sandra was casually reading a magazine when the mammographer asked her to return to the exam room to get additional views of one area of her left breast. “She didn’t make me feel apprehensive,” Sandra says, “I thought it was going to be like the other time and there would be nothing to it.”
But when the technician returned with the results, she told Sandra they had found something suspicious on the X-ray and she would need to see BMH breast care navigator Jackie Brown. “Jackie told me they needed to perform a stereotactic core biopsy to determine the nature of the abnormality,” Sandra says. “If it was cancer, I felt like they had found it early and it could be treated successfully.”
Sandra was examined by BMH general surgeon Tim Pearce, MD, and two days later was scheduled for the biopsy. During the procedure, the patient lies facedown on a special table with an opening for the breast to be examined. The doctor raises the table and the biopsy is performed from underneath.
“It was unnerving, “but the technician was fantastic,” Sandra says. “She held my hand and rubbed my back and told me everything the doctor was doing. It was very comforting to have her there explaining what was going on.”
Pearce received the results a day later. Because it was a Friday, he asked Brown to call Sandra immediately so she wouldn’t have to go through the weekend worrying about the outcome. The biopsy was negative. He met with her the following Tuesday to go over the findings in more detail.
“It was as nice an experience as it can be,” Sandra says. “It’s unpleasant, but necessary for your health.” The speed of the process, from the initial mammogram to diagnosis, went a long way toward reducing her anxiety. “I didn’t have time to imagine the worst,” she says.
She was equally impressed by the professionalism and compassion of the staff. “Everyone at the Women’s Imaging Center, from nurses walking down the hall to the receptionist, made a point to stop and ask me if I was all right,” Sandra says. “It makes you feel better to be among people who empathize with what you’re going through and really care about your well-being.”
The speed of the process, from the initial mammogram to diagnosis, goes a long way toward reducing patients’ anxiety. “When people find a lump or have an abnormal mammogram, they can come in and have it evaluated and have a diagnosis within 24 hours,” says BMH general surgeon Perry Burrus, MD, the medical director of the Women’s Imaging Center and an active member of the American Society of Breast Surgeons. “It’s completely changed the way breast disease is evaluated in the Lowcountry.”
Due for your annual mammogram?
Call 843-522-5015 to make an appointment at the Women’s Imaging Center in Beaufort or Bluffton Medical Services in Westbury Park. You’ll get your results the same day at both locations.