Cancer survivor stresses daily, weekly awareness

SMITHFIELD – Attention to breast cancer awareness will be featured starting Tuesday and throughout the month of October, but there should be daily, weekly and monthly awareness too, according to Vickie Hogan, a breast cancer survivor who was a speaker at a recent Brightway Center Breast Cancer Awareness luncheon event.

The subject also is important to Cathy Takach, Brightway project manager, who has been battling breast cancer, too.

“There were no signs or symptoms with mine. It is a type that wouldn’t have been detected until it got further along. That is why it is important to have regular checkups to note changes,” Takach said.

Along with Hogan, who was hit with cancer twice, other speakers at the luncheon were Diane Wolfley, Angel Network director; John Paul McMahon, a Franciscan brother and prostate cancer survivor; and Carol Santone, CTR at the Tony Teramana Cancer Center cancer registry.

“I got mammograms regularly but at my check-up at age 47, the doctor felt something was not exactly right. A biopsy was done and I learned that it was the ‘Big C.’ I had six weeks of radiation and didn’t miss one day of work,” Hogan said.

“The hardest part was telling my son, Elk Simon, a musician and dancer, about it. I didn’t even want to think that I might be leaving him alone,” she explained.

“You need to have a good support system. It isn’t that important for them to talk as it is for you to do it,” Hogan said.

“After 12 years of struggling with breasts of two different sizes, I went to have a breast reduction. That was when I learned that (the cancer) had come back,” she said.

“This is typical of cancer, it can come back again in the same place or in other places in the body. Men can get breast cancer, too,” Hogan said.

“I am healed. I asked God to heal me and I’m here and grateful to him and for my family’s support system,” she smiled.

“You have to get mammograms, do self breast examinations, eat the right diet and try to stay away from artificial sweeteners,” Hogan told the audience of about 45 people.

Diane Wolfley, Angel Network director, said, “Using the excuse of having no insurance for a mammogram is unacceptable. There are grants and other ways available if you don’t have insurance,” she said. Her Angel Network helps African-American women get health benefits.

“When I started the program in 2005, I was lucky to see one or two black women come in for mammograms. When they did come, they were diagnosed at advanced stages. So I took the program out to the people to tell them what was needed in preventing cancer and its care, but no one in the African-American community was listening,” Wolfley said.

“We started with two angels and now have 77 and soon will have 82, as five are in training. We are educating them on breast health so they can educate others,” she said.

Wolfley showed PowerPoint presentations, telling that one out of eight women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. She said the risk gets greater as one grows older and African-American women tend to be diagnosed at lower ages and the mortality rate is higher. She noted 8 percent of those who get breast cancer don’t have a family history of it, and 97 percent of women diagnosed at an early stage will survive for five or more years. Women between 20 and 39 should get visual examinations every three years, she said, and those 40 or over should go once a year.

John Paul McMahon, Franciscan brother and a prostate cancer survivor, said, “Men should start being screened at age 45. It can strike early, and in younger men it is more aggressive.

“There is a five-year survival for 99 percent of men if caught early but it was only a 60 percent survival rate 20 years ago,” he said.

“A PSA blood test of 0 to 4, is OK, but above that there can be potential problems. The Gleason score is different. It shows the difference between normal and abnormal cells. After a score of 6, it could go either way, and beyond 8, it needs immediate care,” he said.

“Some methods are radiation are seeds implanted, freezing of prostate and chemotherapy. Prostate cancer is not a bump in the road. Cancer can return and can kill. Once diagnosed, life is never the same. It should not be downplayed. I had adjustments to make. I was one who had never seen the inside of a hospital for illness before age 59,” he said.

“One year after arriving in Steubenville, a physical showed PSA activity that didn’t look good. After a biopsy, I went into a state of denial. I help people but didn’t tell anyone of my prostate cancer,” he said

“Radiation and seed implants were part of my care but by then my brothers, relatives and friends knew of the cancer. Survival instinct takes over and all other feelings are gone,” he said.

“Each day is a precious gift. You can be battered and bruised but soar anyhow if empathy and sympathy are in the plan,” he said.

Carol Santone, who is with the Tony Teramana Cancer Center registry, told about the registry started at Ohio Valley Hospital.

“We would take the name and do a follow up on them to see if their cancer had come back. We track you for the rest of your life. The information is reported to the state. It is sad to say that … lung cancer is No. 1 in Jefferson County.

“We follow about 5,000 patients a year,” Santone said.

Wolfley praised the registry work, saying it is a valuable tool in learning about cancer.