|When Judy Antisdel (right), of Corning, Iowa, needed a Gammagram ultrasound tech Sara Freeman (left) of Alegent Health Mercy Hospital-Corning volunteered to drive the 158-mile, three-hour round trip with her.
Judy Antisdel has always been vigilant about doing monthly breast self-exams and getting her annual mammogram. Her doctor Bethel Kopp, M.D., of Alegent Health Clinic, is adamant that Judy perform breast self-exams and have regular check-ups. That’s because Judy’s family history puts her at risk for breast cancer.
“My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 44, and she passed away at 54,” recalls Antisdel, a native of Corning, Iowa. “That was 40 years ago. They did not have the technology back then.”
Now things are different.
When her routine mammogram on Feb. 26, 2009, indicated a possible shadow, she returned to Alegent Health Mercy Hospital in Corning for the first in a series of many imaging tests available to help her.
“The shadow area was next to the breastbone and buried so you couldn't feel it,” Antisdel said. “I examined that area myself once a month and sometimes more. Neither my doctor nor I could feel it.”
After the mammogram, the next step was an ultrasound, which confirmed the shadow, said Sara Freeman, an ultrasound tech at Mercy Hospital.
“The ultrasound was inconclusive, though, so the doctor was persistent that this area needed to be examined further,” said Freeman.
Alegent Health radiologist Jon Bleicher, M.D., asked Judy if she would follow-up with a new breast imaging technique called Gammagram, located at Alegent Health Midlands Hospital in Papillion.
Freeman, who knew Antisdel, also knew she did not feel comfortable driving in the city and offered to accompany her to Midlands Hospital.
“I got approval from my boss to drive Judy to Papillion,” she said. “It was also an opportunity for me to become more educated about the Gammagram procedure at Midlands because the radiologists are recommending more patients to have the procedure,” she said.
Crusaders tout tool
“We’ve got some breast cancer crusaders here at Midlands,” said Dr. Bleicher. “Gammagram is one of many tools that we have to find breast cancer before it is clinically palpable. It’s another step in the march of technology and it puts us on the cutting edge.”
Breast cancer imaging tools – including mammography, MRI and ultrasound – are all a bit different and frequently complementary, noted Dr. Bleicher. Each has its own benefits, drawbacks and risks.
“None of these tools are necessarily better than the others, it’s just a different perspective on the same problem,” said Dr. Bleicher.
Gammagram, which is less expensive than an MRI of the breast, can detect cancer even in women with dense breast tissue. The procedure, conducted much like a mammogram, involves injecting a patient with low-level radioisotopes that enhance, or light up, cancer cells in the resulting image.
“Our care team has all been touched by breast cancer,” said Dr. Bleicher. “We know that patients are not just facing a cancer war, but a battle with anxiety. We can help that with a soothing and relaxed imaging experience.”
The procedure at Midlands, said Antisdel, was comfortable.
“All of the staff were so warm and friendly,” she said. “They explained everything as the procedure was taking place and made me feel comfortable. They were just excellent.”
Indeed, the Gammagram revealed a lump, and a needle biopsy that same day confirmed cancer. Antisdel’s treatment started right away. After two surgeries and 33 radiation treatments, she is doing well. Now, she has a mammogram every six months.
“I stay on top of it and take care of myself,” she said. “I eat well. I try to walk one to two miles each evening. I just try to do things that are good for me.”
She calls Dr. Bleicher her “guardian angel.”
“If he had not pursued it, I would not have had the Gammagram, then who knows?” she said. “It could have snowballed before it was found because of its location.”
“We definitely caught her very early, and we wouldn’t have without the mammogram,” said Dr. Bleicher. “While that came back negative, I still worried about that area, so we took things up to a higher level with the Gammagram just to be sure.”
Antisdel, who said she would recommend a Gammagram to anyone, notes that many women tend to think that breast cancer won’t happen to them.
“I'm just a real big advocate of getting your mammograms and checking yourself monthly,” she said. “Cancer is such a curable disease. If you stay on top of it and catch it early, it doesn't have to control your life.”
And if she ever needs a Gammagram done at Midlands again?
“If there are ever any doubts again for myself, I would be out there in a minute,” Antisdel said.
And Freeman said she would be willing to accompany Antisdel again, or any other patient from Corning, to Midlands Hospital for the Gammagram.
“I would be willing to do that again,” she said. “It’s kind of nice to have someone in the health field with you. We can help reassure them it’s going to be ok and help explain to them what’s going to take place. It helps to put the patient at ease.”