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Mammogram Tests A Must, Even During COVID-19

Cheryl Trevison, with husband Lance, suggests that women not use COVID-19 as an excuse not to get a mammogram. — Submitted photo

You've likely heard about the backlog across the country in diagnostic testing — like mammograms — due to COVID-19.

But you might not have heard about Cheryl Trevison, a Nelson retiree who learned she had breast cancer during COVID-19 and is now fighting it as you read.

Trevison, who has live in the Heritage City area for most of her life, almost didn't get a recent mammogram due to being worried about going to the hospital and risking COVID-19 exposure.

Now undergoing chemotherapy treatment, Trevison shares her story, which also happens to be October Breast Cancer Awareness month.

So Trevison has become an avid supporter of mammograms.

"It takes half an hour," the now retired Kootenay Savings Credit Union employee said.

"It's not painful, it's uncomfortable, but it can save your life. Breast cancer can be very aggressive and very fast-growing. I was one of the lucky ones. My prognosis is quite good. A mammogram is something not to be feared, but embraced."

Cheryl Trevison is thankful to the hospital staff who persisted that she re-book her mammogram appointment. — Submitted

Trevison usually has a mammogram every year because of a lump she had removed from her breast at age 19. With COVID-19, she didn't have one last year.

Then this year, she was scheduled to have one in February, but due to COVID-19, she cancelled. She was worried about catching COVID-19 and passing it along to her mother, who lives in supported retirement living.

"When I phoned to cancel it, this woman said, ‘Are you sure?’”

The staff person called her back several times over the next few weeks, trying to get her booked into a mammogram. When the woman said "I have an appointment tomorrow, and I think you should take it,” Trevison figured now was a good time to bite the bullet.

She took the appointment, not knowing this was the start of her cancer journey.

The hospital contacted her to request a follow-up mammogram with ultrasound because they found something highly suspicious. A few days later, she heard she needed a biopsy.

The biopsy confirmed it was cancer. But there weren't enough cells for the doctors to determine a treatment plan. So, they ordered a second biopsy. They still didn't get enough cells, so she had surgery to remove the cancerous area, which the doctor said was a very aggressive form of cancer.

"If I waited until September to get my mammogram, the lump could have been bigger and done a lot more damage. I was very fortunate," Trevison explained.

"The lymph node was clean, which meant it had not metastasized. That woman from the BC cancer agency, I'll probably never meet her; she saved my life. I'm grateful to her."

Now, Trevison is undergoing 12-weeks of chemotherapy treatment as an “insurance policy,” at the advice of her doctors. She had her fifth treatment on October 8th. Radiation is still a possibility, too.

"The team of nurses are absolutely phenomenal," she said.

"I can't say enough great things about them. They try to anticipate every side effect you're going to have, and when you have one, they deal with it immediately."

Trevison isn't feeling too bad, as far as side effects go. However, her worry level is high.  

"COVID-19 adds to it," Trevison said. "When you're undergoing chemotherapy, it kills off your immune system. It's scary."

Despite being double-vaccinated, Trevison restricts her activities and doesn't see anyone outside of her immediate family. Not even her big extended family and her mother, who she says taught her to face every challenge with courage.

She even buys groceries online.

Putting off a mammogram because of COVID-19 is not a good idea, she stresses.

Trevison didn't know breast cancer existed until she was 19 and found a large lump in her breast. She had a lumpectomy. It was not a positive experience. The male doctor didn’t communicate with her much at all.

"When you go in for surgery, you had to sign a permission slip that said if you see the need to, you can remove my breast when you're in there," Trevison said.

"I was freaking out. When I woke up, wrapped up in constrictive bandages, I could hardly move, and I thought that they had cut it flat out. It was a very frightening experience for me."

Two years later, Trevison and her husband were living in Vancouver and she was working at CIBC.

"I was involved in the very first every CIBC runs for the cure," Trevison said.

"My co-workers and I got together, and we walked it. It was jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring, the participation and the number of women who were running for themselves or in memory of a friend who had lost a battle to breast cancer. It's treatable now if they catch it early."

Trevison is a big supporter of mammograms and even posted about her journey on her Facebook page, asking the public to get in the habit of regular testing.

"It's fast and easy and something we should all be doing for our health. It's my way of paying it forward.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer.

Learn more about Breast Cancer at the BC Cancer Foundation.

To make a donation go to the BC Cancer Foundation page.