One survivor’s story: The power of 'life-saving' mammograms

Margaret Heinlein shares how her wellness benefit helped detect her breast cancer early.

Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015

Margaret Heinlein had no family history of breast cancer. She hadn’t felt anything unusual on her own.  

And she can admit it now: Despite knowing they were important, she didn’t always follow through on routine wellness tests.  

But thankfully for Margaret and her family, she had that routine mammogram in 2012.  

The diagnosis: cancer.  

“Of course, my first reaction was very emotional – mostly shock and fear,” she said. “My doctor reassured me that my diagnosis was early and my cancer was treatable, but all I heard was cancer. It took me a few days to re-focus on the positive, which was my early diagnosis.  

“I have to say that in the past I have not been particularly conscientious about wellness tests like mammograms, but this experience has taught me that they can be life-saving.”  

Margaret underwent a lumpectomy and seven weeks of radiation treatment. Thanks to the early detection, the tumor was small and she avoided chemotherapy. The radiation left her fatigued and with burns similar to bad sunburns.  

Margaret, a manager in Colonial Life’s law department in Columbia, S.C., was able to work through the treatments and that kept her spirits up and left her feeling like her life was intact.  

A cancer insurance policy she has had since the 1990s helped her pay deductibles and co-payments related to the surgery, treatment and doctor visits. Of course she never expected to use it. But she learned it was a wise decision she made all of those years ago.  

She speaks fondly of her doctor and her supportive network of friends and family. Her daughter recently raised money for cancer research at a mud race. Her T-shirt read: “For my mom.”  

“That’s the kind of support I had and have,” she said.  

Margaret’s doing well now – on the medication that she’ll continue for two more years. Trips to the oncologist have become routine. As have blood tests, X-rays and other cancer-related tests and screenings.  

Every time she visits the oncologist, she meets people with cancer who are positive, hopeful and encouraging to others.  

“It’s contagious and inspiring,” she said. “The cliché about adversity bringing out the best in people may really be true. I think that the experience of having cancer has made me more compassionate and certainly more appreciative of all the wonderful things in my life.  

And now, she certainly doesn’t miss her mammogram – twice a year.  

“I am so grateful for the treatment, the surgery, the doctors, and my life,” she said. “If nothing else, cancer helps you appreciate every day you have. Getting positive news of ‘no cancer’ from the mammograms is never routine.  

“I celebrate every time.”

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