Jackie Ricords was just 41 with a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old when she found out she had breast cancer. She had no symptoms and she wants other women to know that her breast cancer screening saved her life. Jackie credits Penn State Health for supporting her decision to have a mammogram and for providing guidance and customized care along the way. Since then, she has chosen to support organizations like the PA Breast Cancer Coalition, serving as a PBCC Research Grant Reviewer and Photo Exhibit participant.
With two young boys playing multiple sports and a career in educational technology, I was feeling guilty about not calling to schedule a mammogram until I turned 41. When I was having my wellness check-up, my primary care doctor told me that since I didn’t have a family history of breast cancer I could postpone my screening appointment until I was 50 years old. I paused–tempted by the extra load of laundry or report that I could write in the time the hour appointment would take–but I said no. It’s scheduled; I will go.
I had my first mammogram at a Penn State Health satellite office with an older machine. The staff was friendly and had me in and out. I thought–well that is done for a year!
When I received a call the next morning with the request to get the mammogram redone at the main breast center, I knew there was a problem. I went in the same day, got a second mammogram and started asking questions. I am sure that I wasn’t on any planned schedule and that I took up a lot of time of the staff, but everyone was very patient with me. Within two weeks on November 1st I had a surgery scheduled that would both remove my cancer and do the reconstruction. The drains post-surgery were a challenge, but by November 6th I voted and went to my boys’ teacher meetings at school.
I don’t want anyone else to have breast cancer, but if you have to receive the diagnosis it is important to have a team surround you that you can trust–just like my team at Hershey Med. Throughout this first surgery and my follow-up procedure, my care team was exceptional, emailing or talking to me on the phone whenever I needed assistance. My surgeons were extremely patient with my husband and my father’s written list of twenty questions (I am not exaggerating!). The genetic counselor helped me to understand my treatment options and risk level.
“It was the small things from the PBCC care package to a text or a book from my friends and having my parents physically come and help with all of the drains and the different things I had to do throughout the couple months where I had to go through a series of surgeries.”
I am officially not in active treatment, but I said ‘What can I do to help?’ and one of my doctors mentioned ‘Oh, well do you remember the care package you got? The Coalition is always looking for research grant reviewers’ and since I have an academic background I wrote in to see if I could volunteer.
I am proud to be a survivor and glad to be able to enjoy more years with my family. Please get screened. I was not the first person in my high school graduating class to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I had no symptoms and no family history at the time.
“To me, it’s meaningful just to be able to say ‘You can get covered. You can get screened… even if you don’t have any symptoms (like me!) and it can save your life!'”