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Juanita, Breast Cancer Survivor

Juanita Vaughn photo, head and shoulders

When Juanita of Elizabethton noticed a large lump two months after her annual mammogram reported normal results, her doctor sent her back to Sycamore Shoals Hospital for another screening and an ultrasound. Even though the lump didn’t have cancer characteristics, she elected to have it removed because of the size and location. Thank goodness she did.

Just to be cautious, surgeon Dr. Digby performed a biopsy to make sure the lump was indeed a cyst, but when the results came back with an unexpected cancer diagnosis, Juanita recalls that everything went into fast mode. The next steps included lymph node removal and then radiation and chemotherapy treatments. For Juanita, the initial feelings of shock, fear and anxiety were eased by having the entire process, from diagnosis to surgery to treatment, at her hometown hospital.

“I was scared, shaken when I got the news. My anxiety was through the roof,” she says. “But experiencing the entire process close to home at Sycamore Shoals Hospital was an answer to my prayers. I realized I had my own support team there; they became my second family. That was extremely reassuring for me.

“The people there are my friends, my neighbors, people I meet in the community every day. They cried, prayed, laughed and celebrated with me when I was done. The care, love and support at Sycamore Shoals is what helped me heal. I don’t want to think about how long it would have taken me to recover if I had to go somewhere else.”

Fortunately, Juanita is faithful about having annual mammograms and performing self-breast exams, so her cancer was caught early. But her story is an example of how fast breast cancer can grow.

Now, breast cancer can be discovered even earlier than ever – long before a woman can feel a lump or standard mammograms can detect it. New 3D mammography machines are so technologically advanced that they can detect tiny cancers not even visible with more commonly used mammography imaging. Statistics show that 25 to 30 percent more cancers are found with the 3D imaging, which means more lives can be saved due to an earlier diagnosis.

“The 3D mammography is more like a CT scan where you get a couple hundred images in slices that look truer to the actual structure of the breast,” says radiologist Vince Becker, MD, of Mountain Empire Radiology. “It can catch cancer at less than 1 centimeter which is Stage 1 and much more treatable.”

“With the 3D mammography, you can have peace of mind knowing that it was a more thorough exam with the latest technology designed to detect cancer earlier. With 3D, there is no second guessing,” says Dr. Becker. “Still, new technology is great, but it doesn’t help people who don’t use it. All women age 40 and older should get a mammogram.”​