My First Mammogram Saved My Life

It was her son’s 12th birthday. She figured she could just run in, get her mammography, then go pick up some cake and balloons.

“This won’t be a big deal,” she thought. “I’m 39 years old, and breast cancer doesn’t run in my family.”

Brooke Perry Ramos would get her first mammogram after reporting a small lump in her breast to her primary care physician. Prior to her screening, Brooke had no idea that this would be her first and last mammogram.

“On the day of my test, I was laughing with the nurses; they knew it was my first time. They walked me through it and made me feel super comfortable. And then afterward, they had me wait in the waiting room.”

As she sat waiting to discuss her imaging results with her doctor, she smiled to herself as she heard the “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” lullaby play over the intercom for the birth of a baby.

“I sat there reflecting, on the fact that 12 years earlier, I was in labor with my son. Breast cancer was nowhere on my radar.”

A tech came out to tell Brooke she needed a few more images before leaving that day, including an ultrasound.

“I naively thought, ‘oh, maybe some of the first images were blurry.’”

But after more imaging and the ultrasound, Brooke was informed that they highly suspected breast cancer, and she would need a surgical consultation.

“It really was shocking and not what I was expecting. I was expecting to hear it was nothing. When I went home that night, I felt flabbergasted.”

After Dr. Maureen Chung, Medical Director of the Breast Program at Southcoast Health, reviewed Brooke’s images, Brooke was given an appointment with a care team. The appointment was scheduled to occur within days of her initial imaging.

The meeting with the Southcoast Breast Program team and oncologists would prove to be a great source of comfort and support. It provided information, clarity, and a plan. But before moving forward with Southcoast, Brooke did seek a second opinion in Boston.

Brooke was sent to Boston for additional tests and meetings. She recalls going from one floor to another, to another. The system had even given her a digital tracker to assist her in finding her destinations.

“I felt like an amazon package. And it took them an entire week to get back to say that the Southcoast team’s diagnosis was correct.”

Brooke sensed that that Southcoast would be her team.

“Dr. Chung was my North Star. I am a person who likes information. I don’t need anything sugar-coated. And there are so many decisions to be made. Dr. Chung was amazing at giving me the information while also reminding me we didn’t have to worry about the next steps until we got there.”

Brooke would face multiple surgeries, including a double mastectomy and chemotherapy over the next two years. The whole experience got her thinking about what kind of life she was living before all of this. She was on “the hamster wheel,” making multiple trips to Hong Kong for work a year. Her travels made it hard for her to prioritize sleep, healthy eating, and exercise; activities that help keep one balanced. It seemed that her kids were growing up in an instant, and she felt she had missed it. Though the company that employed her was and continues to be very supportive, she couldn’t help but think there may be more to life than the corporate climb.

“So many valuable lessons come out of these kinds of things. It sounds cliché, but it really does change your perspective on what’s important.”

Now that Brooke is past the most difficult of her treatments, her focus is on quality of life and giving back. Brooke joined PFAC at Southcoast – the Patient and Families Advisory Council – to help make the patient experience the best possible.

She is also pursuing studies in holistic medicine.

“I would never say that it could replace Western Medicine. I wouldn’t drink carrot juice over receiving my life-saving treatments. But I do believe that there is a place where the two could marry. I have this really driven focus right now on what I could have done differently had I known, especially when it comes to counteracting some of the side effects of medications.”

Brooke is currently taking classes in mind-body wellness to earn a counselor accreditation and help other people deal with their cancer treatments.

“It was always something I wanted to look into before my cancer diagnosis. I would say to myself, ‘Yeah, I’ll get to that one day.’ After all this, I said, ‘I am going to sign up, and I am going to learn it now!’, because what am I waiting for?”

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