Diane Walter

A bump in the road

Thanks to early detection, Diane’s cancer didn’t stand a chance.

What you don’t know about your health can hurt you. Screening tests have played a major role in improving cancer survival rates by allowing doctors to detect and treat cancer before it even triggers symptoms. For example, mammograms can help identify about 87 percent of women who have breast cancer, depending on factors such as breast density. With this early detection, the patient has more treatment options and an increased probability of survival. However, many patients choose to skip these screenings— they think the test is only for those who have symptoms, or they aren’t in a high-risk group, or the tests cause discomfort, etc.

When Diane Walter of College Station went to her annual physical, her doctor recommended a mammogram, a standard breast cancer screening for women over age 50. “He was putting in the order for the test, but I kept thinking about how busy I was. I thought it would be ok to put it off because I had no family history of breast cancer,” Mrs. Walter says. A few days later, she received a call from Women’s Imaging to schedule an appointment.

Indeed, Mrs. Walter’s mammogram came back abnormal. Further tests and a biopsy confirmed a tumor. Fortunately, it was small and still in its early stages. “It was really the best-case scenario,” Mrs. Walter says. “My doctor told me this was going to be just a bump in the road.”

Within a week, Mrs. Walter had surgery to remove the tumor, followed by 16 days of radiation therapy. About half of all cancer patients will need radiation therapy during the course of their treatment. A linear accelerator delivers radiation with pinpoint accuracy to target and treat tumors while sparing surrounding healthy tissue.

“I didn’t have many side effects from the radiation, except some fatigue,” Mrs. Walter says. “I was still able to run 5ks and train for a half marathon. And when I did have a skin reaction, they got me in that same day to make sure everything was alright.”

Because radiation therapy is usually given almost daily for several weeks, it can have a large impact on a patient’s life. The comprehensive care available at Baylor Scott & White Cancer Center – College Station kept Mrs. Walter from needing to travel or toggle between healthcare systems for her treatment. “Going every day gets old quickly,” she says, “but having the cancer center right here made it so easy. I could still go to work and do all my normal activities because I didn’t have to go to Houston or somewhere else every day.”

“I can’t say enough good things about Baylor Scott & White,” Mrs. Walter says. “It’s amazing to me that they go to work and save lives every day, and do it with such grace and compassion. Having to go through this was hard enough, but they went above and beyond for me at every step of the way.”

Screenings help save lives

Screening tests help identify cancer cells or abnormal growths at early stages, often even before symptoms appear. By the time a patient notices symptoms the cancer may have grown and spread to other parts of the body, making treatment more complicated and intense.

In addition to mammograms, a number of tests are recommended for adults with certain risk factors such as age, tobacco use, or family history of cancer. Tests may include imaging, blood testing, genetic testing, or a simple physical exam.

“Now I tell everyone I know to be aware of their health and don’t put off getting the screening tests,” Mrs. Walter says. “Get in, get it done, and don’t delay. My case could have been much worse, but because they caught it early, it truly was just a bump in the road.”

To learn more about how you can help bring comprehensive cancer care to patients in your community, please contact Kassi Horner, director of philanthropy, at 979-207-4074.

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