Early detection is key in fight against breast cancer

Joyce Smart, of Toms Brook, is a breast cancer survivor who credits her faith, family, friends and rescue dog Midnight for helping her cope with the disease. Rich Cooley/Daily

TOMS BROOK – A local woman found early detection to be critical in her fight against breast cancer.

Joyce Smart, 64, of Toms Brook, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 2008. She said the cancer was discovered after a mammogram.  She had been having the test done yearly since she turned 40, but in 2008 the test returned with a different result: cancer.

“I was one of the fortunate ones,” she said. “I found it in time.”

She received a stereotactic breast biopsy that uses mammography to identify and biopsy an abnormality within the breast to confirm the diagnosis.

Following the results, she had a partial mastectomy and about 30 rounds of radiation for about six weeks to treat the cancer at Winchester Medical Center.

She said her mother had passed away from leukemia two years earlier and during her first doctor visit, Smart saw African violets in the waiting room. These were flowers her mother used to grow. She said she took this as a sign from her late mother that she was with her and everything would work out for her.

“It was just very obvious that it was meant to be,” Smart added.

When she first received the news that she had cancer, Smart said she was scared. But after that feeling subsided she made plans with her doctors for what needed to happen next and went forward with those plans.

Looking back, she said the experience strengthened her and gave her courage for anything else that happened next.

She added that her friends and her faith helped her get through the ordeal.

“It’s the community working together and helping each other. That’s how you get through it,” she said.

She also adopted a dog named Midnight to keep her company throughout the treatments.

Since her recovery, she visits her doctor for a yearly checkup.

Smart said she took the precaution of having a yearly mammogram because there is a strong family history of cancer. Two aunts, an uncle and her mother passed away due to some form of cancer, and she said she has other aunts and uncles who have been diagnosed with cancer but have been treated.

Due to her family’s history of cancer, Smart said she was also tested for the BRCA gene. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website http://tiny.cc/bkdjfy, some women carry genetic markers in their BRCA genes that increase their cancer risk. Smart tested negative for this gene.

She has advised her son to get tested for various forms of cancer due to their family history, and she also advises women who have breast cancer or those who are at risk for developing cancer to get mammograms at an earlier age.

“There are things that they can spot when it’s so early now that you don’t end up losing your breast or going through chemotherapy,” she said.

She said self-exams are important in early detection as well, but she advises women to seek follow-up testing because self-exams can’t always detect a cancer.

She added that her cancer was against the back of her chest wall, “so I never would have found it.”

She also recommends seeking medical advice as early as possible because these early testings can provide a sense of assurance.

“If you find anything that is not right or you have any questions, contact your doctor right away. Don’t hold off,” she said. “Early detection is the key.”

She added that having a strong support system will help make those tough days go by much easier. The American Cancer Society, she said, has a network of people willing to help those with cancer.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com.