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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

‘Don’t be scared to get a mammogram’

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Soyna Fleming was in her early 40s when she received her first mammogram. Up until that time, she states she was generally healthy, but her inaugural screening followed by an MRI and biopsy showed she did indeed have breast cancer.

“There was nothing to make me question if I had breast cancer. My doctor said she didn’t want to see me again until I had one. As a woman, all you hear are these horror stories about how they smush you,” said Fleming.

Fleming’s cancer was caught in the early stages, but many aren’t as fortunate. The overgrowth of abnormal cells in the breast tissue that can lead to the spread of those cells to other parts of the body has contributed to thousands of deaths.

Dr. George Sledge, Ballve-Lantero professor of oncology and professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine states breast cancer is the most common cause of cancer in women and is the second leading cause of cancer death for women after lung cancer.

Breast cancer deaths are decreasing, but women should know the causes of the disease. Susan G. Komen for the Cure states factors that increase breast cancer risk include age, family history of breast cancer, radiation exposure, not having children or having first child after the age of 35 among others.

White women are more likely than Black women to develop postmenopausal breast cancer, while African-American women are more likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer.

“Black women have a somewhat different spread of breast cancer than other racial groups. Particularly younger Black women, they are more likely to have what’s called triple negative breast cancer. Chemotherapy is the main treatment for this type of cancer,” added Sledge.

Chemotherapy is a type of systemic therapy that treats the entire body. This is therapy designed to kill off any microscopic disease that might have fled from the breast prior to the woman’s surgery. Other systemic therapies include hormonal therapy and antibody treatment.

In addition to systemic therapy another type of therapy is local treatments. This includes lumpectomy where the tumor and a normal realm of tissue around the tumor are removed. This is followed by radiation therapy. Women also have the choice of a mastectomy, which completely removes the breast.

Fleming chose a lumpectomy followed by radiation to treat her breast cancer. Although part of her breast is missing, she’s still all woman. She also experienced hair loss, skin discoloration and fatigue.

“It’s been hard, but empowering because I’m still here. I’m still surviving. To love me you have to accept everything I’ve been through. I got this for a reason, I survived for a reason and I’m here to tell my story for a reason,” said Fleming. She was diagnosed in 2008 and is currently cancer free.

Sledge is a firm believer in getting mammograms beginning at age 40 for women with low risk factors. Like Fleming, women can also catch their cancer early by using a blood test. Women who have a strong history of breast and ovarian cancer are found to have a mutated gene.

Women can also do self-breast exams, and are suggested to exercise regularly, eat healthy, limit alcohol, breast feed children and not using estrogen/progestin combinations after menopause among others.

“Don’t be scared to get a mammogram. I’ll go with you. I don’t have to know you to support you,” said Fleming. “Us breast cancer survivors, we have a camaraderie. Beating cancer makes you feel like if you can beat this, you can beat anything. I try to enjoy every day and keep a smile on my face because life is short. I enjoy life and embrace it.”

For more information, call the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center at (317) 278-4822 or visit www.cancer.iu.edu. Call the St. Vincent Breast Center at (317) 338-9595 or visit www.stvincent.org.


The St. Vincent Foundation is hosting the Weekend to End Breast Cancer, Saturday Sept. 26 and Sunday Sept. 27.

“This is serious to us, not only because it affects those in our community, but we see the affects on people who are either underinsured or uninsured,” said Paula Ingram-Coleman, manager of the Friends of the Foundation Program. “Time is up for (breast cancer).”

Funds raised from the two day walk will go towards, financial assistance to under underserved diagnosed patients; the Breast Cancer Survivor Program which provided services such as wigs and counseling; updated technology and education; and clinical research.

For more information or to sign up a team, call (317) 879-WALK or visit in09.endcancer.org.

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