From “I just don’t feel like myself” to cancer
For Linda O’Kane, her breast cancer story started months before her actual diagnosis.
“I remember I started feeling off in the Fall of 2017,” she recalls. “I felt anxious and depressed and just didn’t feel like myself. It’s hard to explain, but I knew something was wrong.”
So O’Kane went to the doctor to see if there was an obvious explanation.
“Initially, they thought it was just premenopausal symptoms,” she says. “I was about to turn 49, so it made sense. But there was a small part of me that felt like it must be something more. I didn’t feel like me.”
With her 49th birthday quickly approaching, O’Kane decided to do something she’d been putting off for years – get a mammogram.
“For years, I’d been telling myself to get a mammogram, but as a mom and a teacher, there was always some other pressing priority,” explains O’Kane. “As women, I think we always put others first and make excuses not to do things like annual screenings or going to the doctor. But my dad died when he was 49, and something about how I had been feeling off and the fact that he’d died at that age pushed me to go get that screening. And thank goodness I did.”
Because when O’Kane did go to the doctor to get her mammogram, the results came back questionable. And after a second mammogram and a biopsy, it was clear O’Kane had bilateral breast cancer.
So O’Kane had a Contrast Enhanced Digital Mammogram, or CEDM, to help define the extent of her cancer and determine the best course of treatment. Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill. is currently the only hospital in Illinois to offer the imaging technology.
“The results of the CEDM were immediate, which was reassuring in such a stressful situation,” says O’Kane.
“We injected a contrast used for CT scan, and the technology helped us identify cancers that are not visible on standard mammograms,” says Dr. Nila Alsheik, chair of Breast Imaging at Advocate Health Care. “The contrast mammogram (CEDM) helped us define the extent of the cancer for Linda’s care team. The tumors appeared isolated, and by examining the CEDM, it was clear there was nothing that had been overlooked on prior imaging. There were no additional tumors.”
So on March 16, O’Kane went in for two lumpectomies for bilateral breast cancer.
O’Kane feels lucky she caught the cancer when she did.
“It’s strange to say, but I feel so lucky,” she says. “I’m a teacher and a mother of three. Both roles are so rewarding but also demanding. Life gets busy, and you make excuses not to go to the doctor, not to get that test. But I do think there was some ‘aha’ moment in turning the age my dad was when he passed away. If I hadn’t gotten that mammogram when I did and instead had waited months, or even years, who knows if I would been so lucky to have caught the cancer when I did.”
Her breast surgeon agrees.
“Given a bad scenario, we couldn’t have asked for a better outcome for Linda,” says Dr. Anna Katz, a breast surgeon at Lutheran General Hospital. “Had she not come in when she did for her mammogram, we could be looking at a very different outcome.”
And for O’Kane, one thing she is even more certain of than ever is the mind-body connection.
“It’s crazy to think, but somehow my mind was telling me something was wrong with my feelings of anxiety prior to my diagnosis,” exclaims O’Kane. “It may not have been a lump, but it might as well have been. Those feelings were what drove me to the doctor and to get that screening test, and that may have saved my life. If I learned anything from this whole experience, it’s listen to your body and take care of yourself. Sometimes it’s important to put ‘me’ first.”
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About the Author
Jacqueline Hughes is the manager, media relations at Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she was the public affairs and marketing manager at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL. She earned her BA in psychology at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Jackie has 10 plus years experience working in television and media and most recently worked at NBC 5 in Chicago. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, going to the movies and spending time with her family.