During the month of October, medical facilities are awash in shades of pink. Pink ribbons are displayed by many, ranging from football and cheerleader uniforms to office attire and by those affected by breast cancer or who have loved ones affected by the disease. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and these campaigns are designed to bring greater awareness to the disease, risk factors, screening, and treatment programs.
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. Each year, about 30% of women, or one in every three women, will develop breast cancer. Every 12 minutes, a woman in the United States will lose their life to this horrible disease. However, with early detection and proper treatment, the survival rate of women increases incredibly. With greater education of the risk factors and early detection of the disease, women have a greater chance of survival and living healthy, long lives. The platform of programs developed for Breast Cancer Awareness Month is essential to bringing an end to this disease.
The pink ribbon campaign has a deeper meaning for many. Tasha Stringer is one of those ladies. This Laurel native has worked in the mammography department at South Central Regional Medical Center in Laurel since 2001. Daily she has seen the importance of early screening and proper medical care.
“When the cancer is detected early and you get the proper treatment plan, it is very treatable,” Stringer said.
But Stringer has been affected on an even deeper level by this disease. Her sister discovered she had cancer at the age of 35, and her father was also affected by the disease, needing a lumpectomy. Through great medical care and treatment, both came through their battles successfully. Stringer was very supportive during this time and took an active role in caring for her family.
COVID-19 affected many people in diverse ways. Worldwide shutdowns and major health concerns impacted everyone. While it has been well documented of the multitude of cases of people who have battled the effects of the disease and those who lost their lives due to the coronavirus, the pandemic affected others in so many ways that are not always so obvious.
“When the pandemic hit, the clinics were closed, appointments got delayed, and so many procedures and screenings got postponed, delayed, and even canceled,” Becky Collins, vice president and chief information officer at South Central Regional Medical Center, said. “We are seeing more people come in to get screenings that were postponed due to the pandemic, and unfortunately, we’ve seen an increase in breast cancer diagnoses as well as other ailments.”
Unfortunately, Stringer was one of those affected. She had delayed her own screenings but was faced with a traumatic event. In April 2021, she felt a lump in her breast while doing a self-exam and was devastated.
“It was just a feeling of total disbelief because I knew what it was,” Stringer said. “I really couldn’t believe it.”
But any despair Stringer felt was momentary. She was filled with a determination to fight this disease with all that she had to be there for her family and friends who depended on her.
Stringer immediately made an appointment with her OB-GYN Michael Weber, and he ordered a mammogram for her. After a biopsy, the cancer diagnosis was confirmed. Stringer was put through several scans and tests to determine the extent of the cancer’s damage as the medical staff put together a plan of action to best treat her. Dr. Kevin Ivey removed the lump, and Stringer’s post-care plan of treatment was organized. Stringer underwent genetic testing with Dr. Lisa Bond, medical oncologist and hematologist, and received chemotherapy treatment and oncology care from Bond and Dr. Sandeep Singh, medical oncologist and hematologist. To help ensure that the cancer was eliminated, Stringer also went through several weeks of radiation treatment under Dr. Cameron Pimperl, radiation oncologist.
“I had such a great team of doctors, and they established a wonderful treatment plan for me,” Stringer said. “I can’t say enough about them. They all provided such great care.”
While taking treatments, Stringer continued to work at her position in mammography. Some days were tougher than others as the chemotherapy treatments lasted for several hours at a time, but Stringer persevered.
“It was a struggle at times,” Stringer said. “Sometimes I wouldn’t feel too well after a chemo treatment and might not be able to work, but I was fortunate that I felt strong enough to work during that time.”
Stringer drew strength from her faith, family, and coworkers. Their support and care sustained her through many dark days.
“I definitely relied on my family and my faith and my coworkers,” Stringer said. “I just don’t think I could have made it without all of them being there for me. They offered such a strong and positive outlook for me every day.”
Now, Stringer is stronger than ever and is cancer free. With her very close experience with the disease, she is of even greater support to patients facing this battle. She offers a listening ear and a shoulder of support for patients who have fears when discovering that they have been diagnosed with breast cancer. She has become a hero and source of strength and inspiration for so many.
“I always want them to know that they are not alone,” Stringer said. “I’m always here for them. I know what they are going through because I have been through it, and I let them know that they can always come to me when they need that emotional support. They can see that I’m fine now, and they can recover as well with proper treatment.”
South Central Regional Medical Center can provide exemplary treatment as they have advanced technology in the mammography department. The department includes the latest technology to help detect breast cancer with 3D capabilities. South Central Regional Medical Center offers the Genius 3D Mammography exam which is proven to detect 20 to 65 percent of the more invasive cancers in comparison to the 2D exams. It offers the best technology for women with dense breast tissue. About 40 percent of women have dense breasts, and for a more extensive exam for these women, the mammography department also offers the Ivenia Abus-Dense Breast Screening that offers doctors a better look into the tissues. These new facilities offer enhanced capability to detect breast cancer as early as possible.
Stringer has always been an excellent supporter of regular mammograms, but she has become an even greater advocate of consistent breast exams. She has experienced this disease on so many levels and has come out as a champion and survivor. Stringer is an inspiration to so many, and offers excellent advice and guidance to all women.
“I would definitely say to keep up with your yearly mammogram and your monthly self-exams,” Stringer said. “Try not to neglect those ever. I know that life can slip up on you. Even with me working in this department every day, I didn’t keep up with my appointments. It only takes five minutes for a mammogram, and it can save your life. It may be uncomfortable for just a minute, but it will definitely offer you peace of mind.”
Stringer urges all women to keep up with their regular screenings, and if their appointments were affected due to the pandemic, schedule that screening as soon as possible.
The next time you see a pink ribbon, take a few minutes to embrace all that this symbol stands for. Use this symbol as your sign to get involved in the fight against breast cancer. With greater awareness and education on this disease, greater treatment and discoveries can be achieved.