It’s the American dream: work hard, raise good kids who have children of their own, then retire and enjoy your golden years. Barb Garrett is living that dream right now. She’s able to because of a screening mammogram 15 years ago that changed her life.

Marcy Gregg, left, encouraged Barb Garrett to get her mammogram

“I’ve been faithful with yearly mammograms since I turned 40,” said Barb. “But in 2000, when I was 46, I almost skipped it. But I was having my annual checkup with Marcy Gregg in the Mt. Ayr Medical Clinic, and she encouraged me to go ahead and get it.”

It was that screening that showed a spot on her breast. After a biopsy, it was determined to be malignant. It was breast cancer. Dr. Dane Johnson, an RCH surgeon (now retired) performed the lumpectomy. He and Barb’s oncologist, Dr. Robert Shreck, were both 90% sure they had removed all the cancer. But by adding chemotherapy and radiation, Barb’s odds went up to 99%. “I liked those odds better. And I was so lucky that we caught it very early,” she said.

A Ringgold County Hospital employee at the time, Barb would clock out of her business office job, go upstairs for an hour of chemo, and then come back to work. “I never felt sick. I was so lucky!” she said. The radiation was tougher, requiring trips to Creston five days a week for a while, but she got through it thanks to the support of her family and her husband.

Now, 15 years later, Barb is completely cancer free. During her last checkup with Dr. Shreck he told her she needed to stop making appointments with him. “I feel like I’m committing fraud,” he said. “I am treating you for breast cancer, but you don’t have cancer anymore!”

“I got the best care possible at Ringgold County Hospital,” said Barb. “I used to tell Dr. Johnson that he saved my life! And everyone was just so positive all the time. I knew I was going to get over it.”

Now that she’s retired, Barb hasn’t changed her routine. She still gets a screening mammogram and pap smear every year. With nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, she has lots to live for!

Preventing breast cancer

Although regular, annual mammograms are critical to diagnosing breast cancer early, there are some lifestyle changes that can help significantly reduce a woman’s risk of developing it.

  • Alcohol consumption — women who drink in moderation, or do not drink alcohol at all, are less likely to develop breast cancer compared to those who drink large amounts regularly. Moderation means no more than one alcoholic drink per day.
  • Physical exercise — exercising five days a week has been shown to reduce a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. Researchers from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health in Chapel Hill reported that physical activity can lower breast cancer risk, whether it be either mild or intense, or before/after menopause. However, considerable weight gain may negate these benefits.
  • Diet — some experts say that women who follow a healthy, well-balanced diet may reduce their risk of developing breast cancer.
  • Postmenopausal hormone therapy — limiting hormone therapy may help reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. It is important for the patient to discuss the pros and cons thoroughly with her doctor.
  • Bodyweight — women who have a healthy bodyweight have a considerably lower chance of developing breast cancer compared to obese and overweight females.
  • Breastfeeding — women who breastfeed run a lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to other women.