Pediatric nurse credits mammogram for saving her life

By Tanya Cronin
October 24, 2016 - 5:15pm

KAMLOOPS — It's the most common cancer among Canadian women, and breast cancer continues to be the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women, next to lung cancer.

On average, 70 Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every day, and 13 will die from the disease every year. 

October is a month dedicated to increasing awareness about breast cancer and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure. 

The disease can impact anyone, and a pediatric nurse in Kamloops knows that first hand. 

Norma Jean McKinney was diagnosed 2 years ago, and if it wasn't for a routine mammogram, her fast-moving cancer may have spread and she might not have lived.

For 36-years, Norma Jean McKinney has been selflessly caring for others. As a pediatric nurse, Norma Jean tends to some of the youngest and sickest patients at Royal Inland Hospital. But never did she think she would be in need of serious medical attention herself.

"I was very shocked and right away you think oh my god is this it," says Norma Jean McKinney.

Just over two years ago, Norma Jean learned she had a rapid form of breast cancer, despite years of mammogram screening. In April 2014, a routine screening detected a lump. An ultrasound revealed it was abnormal and a biopsy showed the lump was cancerous.

"My roller coaster started from there, I had to have bone scans, I had to have chest x-rays and numerous things and on July 2nd I had surgery, I had a Sentinel Lymph Node dissection and also a Lumpectomy."  

For the next several months, Norma Jean underwent a grueling series of treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation, procedures that were fraught with complications.

"My hemoglobin was really low, I ended up having to have 2 units of blood to bring my hemoglobin back up and after I had another complication where I ended up with a blood clot in my lung and was hospitalized for 14 days."

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canadian women and the second leading cause of death. In fact, the numbers are staggering. 1 in every 9 women is expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime. By the end of 2016 alone, the Canadian Cancer Society predicts 25,700 women will be battling the disease, 4900 will lose that battle. 

Funding for more research has helped with early detection. And with close to 140 women in the Thompson-Nicola region diagnosed every year, a Rapid Access Breast Health Clinic will soon open its doors at RIH, centralizing care and making the process more efficient for patients facing breast health concerns.  

"It's very scary, and to this day I think maybe it'll come back and every day I pray and hope it doesn't come back, that I'm clear and so far I have been clear."

Breast cancer can happen to anyone. even someone who had no risk for the disease like Norma Jean McKinney, who considers herself fortunate. She had no symptoms and credits a scheduled mammogram for saving her life. Norma Jean now has one simple message to share with every other woman.   

"Please please go out and have mammograms, I truly believe had I not had my mammogram, I don't know when I would've noticed or found something because I did not find the lump," says McKinney.

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