Breast Cancer Survivor Credits Mammograms for Early Detection

Breast cancer survivor Rachel Seil is pictured with Stewart Memorial Community Hospital radiology technologist Afton Daniel. Regular mammograms can help find breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most successful.

When Rachel Seil received a phone call reminding her of an upcoming annual mammogram screening in December 2014, she admits she’d forgotten all about the appointment set months ago. “It was no big deal. I hadn’t felt a lump. It was just my normal annual exam,” says the 47 year old registered nurse.

When certified physician assistant Nancy Flink called her to schedule a repeat exam due to suspicious results of her first exam, Rachel still felt it was nothing. She remained optimistic when an ultrasound was scheduled to gauge the size and exact location of the cancer cells in her breast. A week later a biopsy was done and she was told she had stage 2 cancer. The National Breast Cancer Foundation explains, “Stage 2 means the breast cancer is growing, but it is still contained in the breast or growth has only extended to the nearby lymph nodes.”

Nancy coordinated Rachel’s lumpectomy with general surgeon Dr. Marc Miller in January 2015. She also knew she’d have to have radiation therapy to ensure all the cancer cells were destroyed. After surgery, she was told that the surrounding tissue was tested and revealed to have a 50% recurrence rate, meaning there was a chance the cancer would come back. Her doctors recommended chemotherapy prior to radiation.

During the weeks of chemo, Rachel reports that she was fortunate, “I never got sick. I lost my appetite, and food tasted metallic. But fruit tasted awesome! It took two weeks before my hair fell out. I felt weak and tired though.” She began radiation therapy in the spring, undergoing 33 doses in 6½ weeks. Afterward, she was given an infusion each week for a year in order to ensure the destruction of the cancer cells in the surrounding tissue. Her last infusion was in April 2016.

In July 2016, Rachel felt some pain in her breast. She called Nancy Flink and requested another mammogram. “I was nervous about what the pain could mean. Nancy ordered the exam right away. They scheduled it on a day when the radiologist was present, so he could read the results right away. I knew everything was normal before I left the radiology department. It was a huge relief.”

Rachel commends the communication of the radiology department at SMCH. “While the mammogram is not painful, just a little uncomfortable, the technicians are very informative. They are very descriptive about what they’re doing and help you understand what’s happening. They even showed me the difference between the regular mammogram I’d had in December 2014 and the repeat exam in January 2015.” During that time 3D mammograms (breast tomosynthesis) became available at SMCH and the difference was amazing. Breast tomosynthesis produces a three-dimensional view of the breast tissue that helps radiologists identify and characterize individual breast structures without the confusion of overlapping tissue.

SMCH is committed to the fight against breast cancer. To schedule a mammogram or ask questions, please call 712-464-4207.