SALEM - The hardest call Salem resident Wavelene Arnold said she had to make occurred last fall, to her ob/gyn, after finding a small lump on her breast during a self-exam.
Nearly a year later, she has no regrets - if she had waited to make that call, her chances of surviving breast cancer would have been much less than the 98 percent cure rate she's expecting.
"Early detection is key," she said during a recent interview.
The results of a digital mammogram can be seen on a screen as Salem Community Hospital Vice President of Institutional Advancement LuAnn Haddad, SCH lead pharmacy technician Wavelene Arnold and SCH Department of Medical Imaging Chairman Peter Apicella, M.D. gather in his office in preparation for Puttin’ on the Pink. The event at 12:15 p.m. Friday behind Salem Medical Center off of East State Street will celebrate breast cancer survivors and stress the need for women to have mammograms for early detection. Arnold will be speaking as a breast cancer survivor and Apicella will talk about the advantages of digital mammography. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)
The 62-year-old lead pharmacy technician at Salem Community Hospital will share her story as a breast cancer survivor during Puttin' on the Pink, a breast cancer awareness event set for 12:15 p.m. Friday behind Salem Medical Center.
Also on the agenda will be Peter Apicella, M.D., the chairman of the SCH Medical Imaging Department, who will talk about digital mammography and its importance to early diagnosis. Local breast cancer survivors and the women who have supported them, who are all invited to attend, will also walk a mile and have a light lunch.
From Arnold, the advice to other women is this: get mammograms, know your body and be your own advocate.
4WHAT: Puttin' on the Pink breast cancer program
4WHEN: 12:15 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Tent behind Salem Medical Center
WHY: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
SPONSOR: Salem Community Hospital Charitable Foundation and Medical Imaging Department
INCLUDES: Remarks by breast cancer survivor, info on digital mammography, 1-mile walk and light lunch
REGISTER: Call 330-332-7227
"You can either bury your head in the sand or hit it head-on, which is what I did," she said.
Arnold tried to do self-exams in the shower every month and last fall she found a small lump, describing it as more of a thickening. She called her ob/gyn and had an appointment on a Thursday. That Monday, she had a diagnostic mammogram and Apicella did a biopsy after noting there was a mass. By Tuesday morning, Nov. 1, 2011, he had called to tell her the news - she had cancer.
Her husband, Robert, passed away from lung cancer on Aug. 13, 2002, six months after being diagnosed. He had survived 22 years after being diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.
She had been his caregiver and now she was the one who would need care. Her 26-year-old daughter, Lauren, who was in grad school at the time, came home to take care of her.
"You're overwhelmed, you cry, but I never felt the anger or the pity. I never said why me," Arnold reflected, noting a friend who had a brain tumor had asked why me and another friend commented, "Why not you? What makes you so special?"
Arnold only has a few chemotherapy treatments left and her hair is growing back after months of wearing stylish scarves and trying wigs. Since being diagnosed, she's had a lumpectomy, double mastectomy, radiation and the chemotherapy, which lasts five hours each session.
She used the time during chemotherapy to look at ways to make improvements and approached Apicella about finding things to donate to help the patients occupy their minds with something other than cancer.
The Medical Imaging Department teamed up with Salem Rotary, St. Paul School and the Salem Public Library and portable DVD players and movies were donated for chemotherapy patients and their guests. They've even started serving popcorn. She thanked the St. Paul students personally and answered their questions.
From there, she tackled the dietary menu for patients with cancer, with a new menu taking into account their special needs.
For her latest project, she's putting together an SCH employee-patient advocate program, teaming SCH employees who are cancer survivors with new cancer patients to share their experiences, give them tips and give them hope. The program will begin after the first of the year.
"It is a fight and it's not easy. People need all the help they can get to get through it," she said.
Arnold had all of her treatment at SCH, where she has worked for 40 years.
On Wednesday, read about digital mammography and breast cancer screening recommendations, along with an SCH Charitable Foundation event planned for April for women with cancer.
Mary Ann Greier can be reached at email@example.com
Michele Hoffmeister, Director of Public Relations