Discovering the power of prevention

A cancer screening program sponsored by Elon’s Wellness Center helped one employee detect – and successfully fight – breast cancer.

When arborist Wendy Williams decided to participate in the “Take a Limo Ride for Your Life” mammogram-screening program in March, she didn’t think anything of it. In fact, she thought of the test as almost routine.

At age 26, doctors found a benign cyst in one of her breasts and recommended she get regular mammograms, something she has done on and off for the past 16 years. The results had always been negative, and though she had not been screened for the past two years, she had no reason to believe the March test was going to be any different.

“I would have expected (the test) to find a cyst,” she recalls.

She was wrong.

To her surprise, the test revealed she had ductal carcinoma, one of the most common types of breast cancer in women. Because there were signs that the cancer was beginning to spread, doctors recommended a mastectomy, which she had earlier this year.

Alamance Regional Medical Center’s Norville Breast Care Center sponsors the “Take a Limo Ride” program to Elon employees in conjunction with Elon’s Wellness Center.

“It’s a great program” and it’s free, says Cindy Novak, who together with Janie Griffin coordinates the Wellness Program. The employee’s health insurance picks up the tab for the cost of the test and the Norville Center pays for the cost of the limo and refreshments. “It’s a fun way to get a mammogram done, take a limo ride with friends and get right back to work.”

This year, 32 women took advantage of the program, one of many services the Wellness Center offers Elon employees. Williams is the only employee Novak knows of to have had cancer detected through the yearly screening program and hopes Williams’ story brings awareness about the importance of preventive screenings. Novak says the best way to identify breast cancer in its early stages is through a combination of monthly self-breast exams, annual physical exams and regular mammograms.

According to the American Cancer Society, women should perform monthly breast self-exams beginning in their 20s, while women between the ages of 20 and 30 should have a breast exam by a doctor every three years. Women age 40 and older should have a clinical exam and a mammogram each year. Doctors may recommend a different screening schedule based on a person’s family history, current health or symptoms.

Williams, who is now cancer free, says that if it weren’t for a Wellness Center email reminding employees about the screening program, she would have probably gone another year without getting a mammogram, which could have resulted in a much different outcome. She is in the process of undergoing reconstructive surgery and continues taking preventive medication, something she will have to do for the next five years.

“Whatever your doctor recommends, do it; get it checked,” she says. “We get so busy all the time that we don’t take care of ourselves. The idea of not being there for my family brought it home for me.”

For more information about the mammogram-screening program and other services offered by the Wellness Center, visit the center’s website.