“Your journey is your own and this is what mine turned into, and maybe it's helpful for someone else to hear it.”
Door County Medical Center (DCMC) employee Sandy Sievert was diagnosed with Stage 3 Breast Cancer in June 2013 at the age of 48. Her mother had passed away from breast cancer 40 years prior and with this health history in mind, had always scheduled regular mammograms.
Sandy’s first Mammogram did not show clear evidence of cancer, but 4 months later she could feel a significant change in her breast tissue. At the recommendation of DCMC Physician Assistant Holly Swain, she went in for a second Mammogram which still did not clearly show cancer tumors. However, because of the changes to Sandy’s breast, she was scheduled for an ultrasound with needle biopsy which did confirm that she had breast cancer.
“Mammograms are really important for peace of mind and dramatically improve your chance at early detection,” says Sandy. “You also need to do your self breast exam and don’t hesitate to get it checked out if you notice a change.”
Lucy A. Groth, Mammographer and Lead Quality Control Technologist at DCMC, says the most important take-away is that some cancers can be felt and not seen on a mammogram, and some cancers can be seen on a mammogram and not felt.
“In doing the self-exam, you are not necessarily looking for a lump, but any change from what is normal. Nipple discharge or nipple inversion that is new to the woman should be considered a change.” explains Lucy. “It is the process of monthly self-exams, yearly mammograms, and a physician's physical exam that has proven to work the best. Physicians are often able to do a more comprehensive exam.”
Since 2017, DCMC provides 3-D Mammography, an advanced detection method which results in fewer false positives and fewer callbacks.
After her diagnosis in June 2013, Sandy was referred to Dr. Winkler from Green Bay Oncology, which works in collaboration with Door County Cancer Center in Sturgeon Bay, part of the HSHS St. Vincent Hospital Cancer Centers. Dr. Winkler recommended a treatment plan of chemo, radiation and Sandy chose a bilateral mastectomy.
“My frame of mind was I will take everything you can give me as long as I can beat this. Emotionally it was very hard, I was fighting for my life,” shares Sandy. “Honestly, it’s just boobs.”
After 12 weeks of chemo twice a week, Sandy was ready for surgery in September of 2013, just a few short months after her diagnosis. Her final treatment included 8 weeks of radiation therapy, which she was able to do right down the hall from her office at DCMC.
A year after her initial surgery, Sandy underwent reconstructive surgery at UW Madison Hospital. Now, more than 6 years since her original diagnosis, Sandy has been living cancer free without any recurrence.
Life Keeps Moving
Sandy credits her team of specialists for helping her maintain peace of mind. She does a yearly follow up with Dr. Groteluschen of Green Bay Oncology for blood tests and to check her lymphatic system. Since her type of cancer feeds off of estrogen, she remains on exemestane hormone therapy. She also sees her breast cancer surgeon Collette Salm Schmid, with any questions and keeps her annual with DCMC Physician Assistant Holly Swain.
Sandy spends her free time strengthening relationships with her loved ones, which includes visiting Crivitz, her “happy place” where she and her 4 sisters spent time with their mother before her passing. “There are things that changed in my personal life, I don’t wait anymore. Family is the most important thing for me. If we want to see our granddaughters for two days in Missouri, we make it happen. Even if it’s a motorcycle ride on a beautiful day, just do it.”
Sandy notes that there is a lot of money and research into breast cancer. Informational forums and websites make her feel better when she is feeling afraid. “If I get a weird lump, or pain in my back, my brain automatically goes to ‘is it back?’” says Sandy. “There’s hope even if it does come back. I feel positive about that.”
Schedule a Mammogram at Door County Medical Center
The American College of Radiology and the American Cancer Society recommends annual screening mammograms for all women over 40. Early detection is critical. If you wait until you have symptoms such as a lump, breast cancer may have been present for some time already. Early-stage breast cancer has a 5 year survival rate of 99 percent. Later-stage cancer has a survival rate of 27 percent.
According to Lucy Groth, many people think of breast cancer as an inherited disease, but only about 5-10% are believed to be hereditary. The current breast cancer statistic is 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Although less than one percent of all breast cancer cases develop in men, DCMC conducts several mammograms a year on men.
“Be an advocate for yourself. Your insurance agency often dictates that you don’t need a mammogram, but it’s important for your peace of mind and to stay healthy,” says Sandy.
To schedule an appointment, please call 920-743-5566.