After a “shocking” breast cancer diagnosis last year, Betty Ash, of Leitchfield, is advising women of the importance of early detection.
Ash was 79 years old with no history of poor health, hormone treatments, or known family history of cancer when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2015.
During a routine check-up with Dr. Victor Duvall—Ash’s family doctor in whose clinic she worked for 23 years—it was noted that Ash had not had a mammogram in a number of years.
Duvall requested that Ash have a mammogram straight away, and, on May 18, 2015, Ash underwent a mammogram at Twin Lakes Regional Medical Center (TLRMC).
The mammogram showed an “abnormal density” in one of Ash’s breasts, and the radiologist requested that a second mammogram be performed with an ultrasound of the breast.
After the second mammogram showed abnormal results, the radiologist then requested a biopsy be performed, after which Ash was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), considered the earliest form of breast cancer.
The cancer was detected early enough that it had not spread to any other part of Ash’s body, so she was referred to Dr. Ted Moore, a surgeon at Hardin Memorial Hospital in Elizabethtown, to have the cancer removed.
“I’d worked in the doctor’s office long enough…it was something I knew I needed to act on right away,” Ash said. “I wanted it gone.”
Ash was given the option of a mastectomy (surgery to remove all breast tissue from her breast) and a lumpectomy (surgery to remove only the cancerous mass from her breast).
Ash opted to undergo the mastectomy, a decision with which her doctors agreed would be the best option to ensure the cancer would not spread.
“I didn’t want to wait…I knew what I wanted done, and my doctors were in agreement,” Ash said.
The mastectomy was performed on June 18, 2015, and, following the procedure, which also involved the removal of 15 benign lymph nodes, Moore reported that the cancer had been contained to Ash’s breast and her lymph nodes were clear.
Ash went for her procedure on a Thursday, stayed overnight at Hardin Memorial Hospital, and was back to work at her part-time job at the Twin Lakes Medical Foundation the following Monday.
Due to the early detection and the complete removal of the mass, Ash did not require chemotherapy or radiation; however, if left untreated, the breast cancer likely would have spread, “and that’s why early detection is so important,” she said.
Ash said she told Duvall that he had saved her life by insisting she have a mammogram right away. She had previously thought that, at her age, the procedure might not have been as necessary as it is for a younger woman.
Ash later learned that increasing age is a risk factor for developing the type of cancer with which she was diagnosed, as well as others.
“Older women need to realize it is just as important for them to get mammograms as younger women,” said Ash, who now also visits an oncologist at TLRMC every few months for routine blood work.
“Don’t think because you’ve lived for 79 years you’re not going to develop breast cancer because you haven’t,” she said. “It can happen.”
Ash recognizes that some women may be hesitant to undergo a mammogram due to discomfort, but said, “The little bit of discomfort that goes with having a mammogram is nothing…in comparison to having to go through actually having cancer.”
Ash recently underwent her first mammogram since her surgery last June, and no issues were found.
“Cancer does not have to be a death sentence,” Ash said. “Dealing with it is just something you have to do.”
To those diagnosed with cancer, Ash encourages them to ask their doctor questions and become as informed as possible about their condition.
“The more information you have, the better it is,” she said.
In addition to the early detection, Ash credits the medical care she received from TLRMC and Hardin Memorial Hospital for helping her through her diagnosis.
“I can’t say enough good about the people who took care of me,” said Ash. “They were all very kind, caring, thorough…They were excellent.”
As for Moore, Ash said, “I couldn’t have asked for better care.”
“It’s now been one year since my surgery, but thanks to early detection and excellent medical care, I hope to be around for a long time,” Ash said.
Reach Matt Lasley at 270-259-9622, ext. 2015.