Cancer Survivor Urges Early Mammograms

Nancy Carlson avoided mammograms until eventually discovering lumps in her breasts

While mammograms are not a cure for breast cancer, research has shown early and routine screenings are the best way for women to lower their risks of dying from breast cancer. That fact is nothing new to Nancy Carlson -- a chief executive at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in San Pedro -- in fact, it's something she told her patients each and every day.

Yet Carlson -- who has been at the hospital for 12 years -- said she spent nine years making excuses that she was too busy to get a mammogram.

"I've been in health care my entire adult life, and one of the services I have responsibility for is our breast imaging services," Carlson said of the women's breast cancer center at her hospital. "It's feet away from me, so it's not like I was dealing with inconvenience, lack of access or lack of knowledge."

"I was plain irresponsible and used the excuse, ‘I'm too busy.’"

For nearly a decade, Carlson said she put off her appointments. But five years ago, she was forced to get checked when she discovered two lumps in her breasts.

"That was a terrible mistake I made," she said. "It was a very bad health decision on my part."

Carlson, not wanting others to repeat her mistake, is now sharing her personal story through this letter, urging women to make a mammogram appointment and stick to it.

"I was told that the percent of women that don't keep their mammography appointment (at the hospital) as scheduled is up to 50 percent," she said. "That really concerned me a lot. I thought, ‘If I can make a difference, if I can get one woman in to get a mammogram.’"

Carlson's message has not fallen on deaf ears.

"Basically, it felt like Nancy was talking directly to me, it was the same story," said colleauge Vicki Head. "Knowing the importance of early detection, but also at the same time feeling too busy to get to the mammogram."

Head made an mammogram appointment for Nov. 1.

"How many women can we save from having extensive surgeries through early and routine (mammograms)?" asked Carlson. "Probably a lot.”

Carlson is still working as chief executive and is now five years cancer-free.

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