Jackie: 'Get mammograms on time'
May 19, 2010 - By Susan Bromley
Brandon Twp.- In December 2008, Jackie Nowicki had a mammogram and once again, like she had annually for more than 10 years, she received the all clear.
With no history of breast cancer in her family, and the discomfort of the procedure, it might have been easy to delay her next mammogram. Fortunately, she did not. One year later, in December 2009, Nowicki had her annual mammogram as scheduled, but this time there wouldn't be a good report. On Christmas Eve, she was notified that the results were abnormal.
"I just knew it was cancer," said the 63-year-old township resident and advertising manager for The Citizen. "They had me do two mammograms at the imaging center and I suspected something was not right, but at the time, they said it was a density issue."
Nowicki had an ultrasound done in early January, after which she was told the 1 centimeter lump that was found in her right breast was "grossly suspect" and needed to be taken out right away. She attended her brother-in-law's funeral in Seattle and returned from her trip on Jan. 19, driving straight with husband Norm from the airport to the surgeon's office. Three days later, Nowicki had a lumpectomy in which doctors also removed a half-inch of tissue around the tumor.
A few days later, she learned it had been confirmed as stage one cancer. Still, Nowicki felt lucky. Her cancer had not only been caught early thanks to her diligence in getting annual mammograms, but she was eligible for a new treatment procedure that would not have been available had she been diagnosed even just a year before.
The treatment, known as the SAVI, is for patients who have a tumor of 1 centimeter or less with no lymph node involvement. In the procedure, doctors insert a small appliance, a mammeosite, into the breast tissue, which opens like an umbrella and concentrates high power radiation to the tumor site and surrounding area. Nowicki underwent 10 treatments in the space of five days at Crittenton Hospital in Rochester, receiving as much radiation as a patient would doing the traditional 34 treatments of radiation, which is done 5 days a week for seven weeks.
"This is less damaging to other tissue because it's not done from the outside," said Nowicki, whose only side effect was fatigue during the twice-a-day 30-minute treatments. "It doesn't burn the other healthy tissue."
At the conclusion of the week in which she had the treatments, doctors removed the appliance and gave Nowicki the words she needed to hear. "They told me then I was cancer-free, I was a survivor," she said, smiling. "I walked around and the doctors and nurses were all cheering... It's really hard for me to think I even had cancer, because the treatment was so easy and fast."
Nowicki remembers that after her first surgery, a nurse had asked her, "What are you so worried about? We found this early, it's not like it used to be, it's not a death sentence. The worst case scenario is you have a year from hell, but then you move on and get to see your grandchildren's children."
Nowicki, the mother of two children, Darren and Mandi, and grandmother to four, is looking forward to that day, and also, to her next mammogram, in two weeks. "I'll be glad to have the results from that one," she said. "Make sure you get in for your mammograms on time every year. I have a lot to be grateful for and everyday is a gift."
On June 19-20, Nowicki will walk in the third annual Relay for Life of Brandon/Ortonville, this time as a survivor. The 24-hour event raises money for cancer research. For more information on the Relay, call 248-663-3421, visit relayforlife.org/brandonmi or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville