Despite her family history, Dawn Pilgrim, 50, never imagined breast cancer could happen to her.
However, this October marks one year since her shocking breast cancer diagnosis, and as she celebrates being cancer free, Pilgrim credits Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center for their persistence and for catching her cancer at such an early stage.
Pilgrim, like many women in the United States, is at increased risk for breast cancer because of her family’s history with breast cancer.
“Starting at age 40, I began going in for a yearly mammogram because I knew I was high-risk,” Pilgrim said.
Thankfully, her mammogram follow-up appointments to discuss her mammogram results had always provided positive outcomes, showing nothing of concern. Her appointment in March 2016, however, was different.
“The hospital’s breast health center called me to remind me about my follow-up, and I decided to just ignore them, thinking it was just the usual results and I had nothing to worry about,” Pilgrim said.
Once she missed her follow-up, Piedmont Athens Regional’s breast health center began sending reminder messages, urging her to come back in.
“By October I was still receiving messages, and I finally decided I should probably go,” Pilgrim said.
She was shocked when her doctor diagnosed her with stage one, triple-negative breast cancer at her appointment.
“Triple negative breast cancer is a more aggressive type of cancer, and the treatment regimen is usually intense,” said Cody Gunn, MD, breast surgeon at Piedmont Athens Regional. “The stage of the breast cancer and therefore early detection influences the success of the treatment. Dawn needed to begin receiving treatment as soon as possible because of how quickly her tumor was growing.”
In the six months that Pilgrim had waited to go in for her follow-up appointment, her breast cancer tumor had doubled in size on each side, growing over eight times its original size since her mammogram in March.
She immediately began chemotherapy treatments. Once her chemotherapy was complete, Gunn and his team performed a lumpectomy to remove Pilgrim’s tumor and other abnormal tissue from the breast. After surgery, Pilgrim received radiation treatment.
It has now been one year since her diagnosis and Pilgrim is now cancer-free. She continues to share her story, emphasizing the importance of getting a routine mammogram screening and completing the follow-up appointments.
“The breast health center genuinely cares about their patients,” Pilgrim said. “I can’t begin to imagine what my cancer would’ve been like had I not gone back and just waited for my next mammogram. They saved my life.”
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 253,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2017. Triple-negative breast cancer occurs in about 10 to 20 percent of diagnosed breast cancers and is more likely to affect younger people, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. Survival rates continue to increase due to early detection, increased awareness and improved treatment options. Today, there are more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
For more information about breast health services at Piedmont Athens, visit piedmont.org.