A close call: How routine mammograms catch breast cancer early

October 05, 2022  By: Anthony Matt

Gould Family

If you ever needed a reason to schedule your annual mammogram, look no further than 49-year-old Hermantown resident Heather Gould. Since she turned 40, Gould has made the yearly visit to Essentia Health for this routine procedure, despite the fact that she is considered low risk and has minimal family history of cancer.

“Routine mammograms save lives, and that was definitely the case in my situation,” said Gould.

Heather GouldIn October 2020, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the wife and mom of three got the news after her annual mammogram. A 3D scan at Essentia showed she had invasive ductal carcinoma, a breast cancer that happens when abnormal cells growing in the lining of the ductal cells change and invade the adjacent breast tissue.

“The word ‘cancer’ is scary, but I never asked myself, ‘Why me?’ I asked myself, ‘Why not me?’  she said. “I wanted to know as much as I could about my breast cancer so I could share with others in the future.”

Fortunately, it was a fairly common breast cancer that is curable and treatable, especially when caught in its early stages like it was for Gould. She said her care team established a quick action plan and got to work right away to ensure the best possible outcome.

“Every doctor, nurse, therapist, reception staff, everyone on Essentia’s staff was amazing to me during this time,” said Gould. “They genuinely cared about my life, my family and how I was doing.” 

Over the next six months, her care would include two lumpectomies and 20 radiation treatments.

“Fortunately, the tools for treatment are much more advanced now and we were able to determine that she did not need chemotherapy to treat this cancer,” said Dr. Dan Nikcevich, an oncologist and hematologist at the Essentia Health Cancer Center. “Because of predictive technology, we know if she continues with her treatment there is a 97% chance her cancer will never return.” 

“It felt like a really long time, but looking back it was relatively quick and I’m so grateful Essentia was diligent in every aspect of my care,” said Gould. “I really appreciate how thorough they were.”

Gould said her journey wasn’t easy, but she’s thankful the cancer was detected early and that Essentia staff were so respectful of her questions and concerns.

“I had a really hard time with some of the decisions that needed to be made, but doctors and staff were so helpful and informative and helped me make decisions that were best for me,” said Gould.

In March 2021, roughly six months after her diagnosis, she was declared cancer-free.

“It’s really emotional to hear you are cancer-free,” said Gould. “I just felt pure joy and so fortunate and blessed to hear those words.”

“We can help 100% of the people we see,” said Nikcevich. “It’s important for patients to know they can be helped. We have a good plan and the right plan to support them every step of the way by using all care options available, whether that’s established standards of care or in the context of our clinical trials program where we investigate new and innovative options to treat our patients.”

Heather GouldGuided by her faith in God and strong support from family and friends, Gould said those around her made a big difference during those six months of cancer treatment.

“People were always praying for me, sending me messages, dropping off meals, doing whatever they could to help me,” said Gould. “The support from family, friends, my church and everyone was so incredible and I’m so grateful for that.”

While uncertain and nervous at times, Gould said Essentia staff soothed her and helped her feel positive.

“The whole breast center makes you feel like you’re their only patient,” she said.

Now, Gould advocates for women to take their breast health seriously, even if they don’t feel like they’re at risk.

“You just never know. Genetic testing for me was all negative and I wasn’t considered high risk,” said Gould. “You don’t need to have a family history to get breast cancer.”

More importantly, she said if something feels off, schedule an appointment to get it looked at.

“Don’t be afraid; have hope and faith and trust in your care teams and take that leap of faith because it could save your life,” said Gould.

Essentia is known for its high-quality, evidence-based breast care. Our breast health programs in Brainerd, Duluth and Fargo are accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers. This accreditation is granted to programs that are committed to providing the best possible care to patients with breast diseases.

You can make an appointment by calling (844) 663-1068(218) 786-1019 if you are in the Duluth area — or schedule a virtual visit online at essentiahealth.org/services/breast-health.

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