Survivor touts benefits of early breast cancer detection

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) -- Deb Yocum oversees Stormont Vail's Topeka, Kansas clinics, but never dreamed she'd come to know her colleagues at some of them in a very personal way.

"They did three different procedures on one day just to try to make sure they knew what it was and then I got the phone call a little later on that said it was positive," she recalls of the day in March of 2016 when she had her routine mammogram.

Yocum had stage one breast cancer.

"You think it's the worst thing that ever happened to you, and it probably is, but you get through it," she said.

Cotton O'Neil Cancer Center oncologist Karissa Boyd says the best chance to get through it - and survive - is when it's caught early. If it's not, she says, the battle can be much more difficult.

"It can go to the chest wall making surgery more difficult. It then can spread to the lymph nodes and on to other organs," Dr. Boyd said. "Once it spreads outside those lymph nodes, so if it spreads to your lungs or liver or bones, then it's no longer curable."

Mammograms remain the best way to catch breast cancers early. The mammogram can spot a cancer a lot sooner than a person would be able to feel it on their own.

While the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now recommends mammograms every other year starting at age 50 for women of average risk, a study published last month found following that guideline saves 17,200 lives a year, compared to 29,400 lives saved if women followed the previously long-held recommendation of annual mammograms starting at age 40.

Dr. Boyd sides with the earlier start to screening. She also advocates self exams.

"You're familiarizing yourself with your breast and that way you know if there's any change," she said.

Yocum is proof early detection saves lives. After surgery and chemo, she takes a daily pill and is well on the road to recovery.

"Don't wait - get your mammogram," Yocum advises. "It's not the most comfortable thing in the world, but it's better than the alternative. I feel very lucky."

The Race Against Breast Cancer funds free mammograms for people in Shawnee Co. and surrounding counties. The 2017 5K run/ walk is 8:30 am Saturday, Sept. 9, at Topeka West High School. Further details may be found at People can register the day of the race for $35. The event also features a silent auction.

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