Mon, Oct 17, 2022 at 03:15 PM
It’s not every day that the ones at Marshall Medical Centers employed to provide care to patients find themselves on the receiving end, but during an annual mammogram screening performed by Kerrie Washburn, MeLissa Sims-Smith’s breast cancer journey began.
The 43-year-old Marshall North CT Technologist had her annual mammogram set for April 8.
“It was my third mammogram, and I just went because it was my yearly one,” Sims-Smith said. “I never thought anything was wrong.”
Immediately following the screening, Washburn requested additional pictures and an ultrasound.
“When we looked at the pictures further, you could see something wasn’t right,” Sims-Smith said. “The radiologist and I just cried together.”
Following her biopsy, she was diagnosed with Invasive Mammary Carcinoma, Stage 1, Progesterone positive in her left breast. Sims-Smith underwent a bi-lateral mastectomy on April 26.
“They’re just boobs,” she said laughing. “You know you can order boobs on Amazon.”
She said the mastectomy was not the hardest part about her journey. The hardest part for her is being strong for her eight-year-old daughter, Kylie, two older sons, and husband, Bobby.
“She (Kylie) hasn’t missed out on any of her activities,” Sims-Smith said. “She knows mama is sick and tired, but I have only missed one Girl Scout event, and Bobby was able to take her to that.”
Sims-Smith married Bobby Smith on August 1, 2021, just 8 months before her breast cancer diagnosis.
“Bobby is amazing,” she said. “I have only had to go to one chemo treatment by myself because he had just started a new job and couldn’t get off that day, but all my other treatments he has been right by my side.”
Following her second chemotherapy treatment, doctors warned her she would begin losing her hair.
“Right after my second treatment, I went straight to the salon to shave my head,” she said, and he (Bobby) shaved his head too.”
Sims-Smith has worked with doctors at the Marshall Medical Cancer Care Center in Albertville to receive her treatment.
“You know, I’ve worked with and know most of the nurses and doctors at the cancer center,” she said, “and every time I go up there they are always so nice, not just to me but every patient they see.”
She also appreciates how close the Cancer Care Center is to her home.
“Going through treatment is so tiring for me,” she said. “It’s really nice to not have to drive so far.”
Her customized treatment plan involves weekly chemotherapy treatments for 12 weeks. She currently has seven more treatments left. To balance her work and treatment schedule, she works 10 hours Monday- Thursday and has treatment on Friday.
“I’m really looking forward to having Fridays off,” she said. “I can’t wait to sleep in and for my hair to grow back.”
“She never misses a day of work,” Washburn said. “She’s been going through chemo and she’s at work every day in one of the busiest modalities we have.”
Sims-Smith has worked with the hospital for 17 years.
“A lot of the patients I see are cancer patients,” she said, “and you see them every year. You really get attached. I really love people.”
Washburn has been with the hospital for 20 years and said Marshall Medical Centers has made breast health a top priority.
“A breast cancer diagnosis is very scary but with the help of modern technology and screening detection there is a higher chance for a successful outcome than before,” Washburn said.
“I feel like at a lot of places breast health may get pushed aside sometimes,” she said, “but Marshall Medical Centers stays on top of all the latest research and advancements so we can do more to treat it.”
In 2017, Marshall Medical Centers installed the latest 3D mammography technology for better, faster detection.
“With the help of 3D technology, we are able to visualize the overlapping breast tissue and find abnormalities sooner than before,” Washburn said.
The American Cancer Society suggests all women should start annual mammogram screenings at age 40. Washburn recommends those who have high risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer, and are currently taking hormone replacement therapy, should establish a baseline at age 35.
Washburn said Sims-Smith is constantly thinking of others before herself and you would never know she is battling cancer. Sims-Smith said she has one goal for this story.
“I hope this story encourages women to come get their mammogram,” Sims-Smith said. “You couldn’t feel my lump, nothing hurt, and I had just gotten one the year before and it was clear. Doing the mammogram is what saved me. If I had waited until I felt it, it would have been way too late.”
“I feel like if you keep a positive attitude it really helps in your recovery,” Washburn said, “and MeLissa has remained so positive. She’s just wonderful!”