Women diagnosed with breast cancer amid COVID-19 stress importance of mammograms

ABC NewsBy JOANNNE ROSA, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — The coronavirus pandemic may have some people wondering which health checkups can be postponed until things calm down, but three breast cancer survivors say breast cancer screening is one to keep.

Jennifer Gordon, Tanisha Worthy and Jennifer Grannis shared their stories on “The View” Thursday about how they almost delayed their annual mammograms due to fears of contracting COVID-19 during their appointments. They each ultimately went to their appointments, and those decisions might’ve saved their lives, as they were diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Things were really crazy,” said Jennifer Gordon, a 41-year-old mother of two children. “My husband and I were working from home. We have a 3- and 5-year-old. We were trying to keep busy while we did our jobs.”

Gordon had initially contemplated skipping her mammogram. But she had promised her good friend Summur Shaikh, a producer for “The View” who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, that she would get one and therefore decided to go on Aug. 27. She was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.

Gordon said she “just kept thinking, ‘Why me?’ And what was going to happen next.”

After her diagnosis, Gordon underwent a successful double mastectomy and is now cancer-free.

“The morning of my surgery, my son told me to be brave and I focused on those words all morning, and as they rolled me in for surgery, it’s what got me through,” she said.

“I would never in a million years let my kids skip one of their doctors’ appointments and I’m always encouraging my husband to make his doctors’ appointments, so why was I so willing to skip mine?” Gordon added. “All it takes is putting yourself and your health first for 10 minutes every year.”

Worthy, 48, had been given the all-clear after a mammogram in December 2019. But a month later, in January 2020, she came across a lump on her breast when she accidentally brushed her hand across her chest.

“I was hesitant to go to the doctor due to COVID, but it was important that I determine what was going on,” Worthy said. “I scheduled the appointment and on June 19th I was diagnosed with breast cancer in both breasts.”

“I had to tell my boys,” she added. “That was the hardest conversation I had.”

Worthy made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. In anticipation of the treatment’s side effects, she decided to shave her head.

“Now I’m embracing the new me until it grows back,” Worthy said.

“It’s extremely important to get your annual mammogram. It’s also very important to do self-examinations,” Worthy went on to say. “Take action for your health.”

Grannis, 49, put off her annual mammogram for five months because it was scheduled during “the height of the pandemic.”

“I’m a busy mom. I’m navigating a divorce,” Grannis said. “Having a mammogram wasn’t even on my radar.”

That all changed when Grannis’ mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and her surgeon insisted all of her daughters get checked for breast cancer immediately.

“The call came three or four days later from my OB-GYN. [The doctor] said, ‘I’m sorry, Jennifer. There’s no easy way to tell you this, but you have breast cancer,'” Grannis said.

Grannis braved a double mastectomy, which she said her 18-year-old daughter “got very emotional over.”

“The only advice I [could] give to her at that time was you just keep standing up,” Grannis said she had told her daughter. “You take your legs and you just keep standing up.”

After everything she’s been going through this year, Grannis said, “I realize that breast cancer loves the woman who is too busy, too tired, too devoted to others or too afraid to stop and go to her mammogram appointment.”

MORE: How 3 women trusted their instincts and discovered they had cancer
Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who focuses on breast cancer, shared some advice in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month on “The View” Thursday.

“I’m not just an oncologist who treats breast cancer. I’m also a busy working mom with three children,” Cohen said. “We all can identify and relate with the anxiety associated with getting mammograms.”

“Women, especially today, are being pulled in so many different directions. It’s all the more reason that women need to be empowered to take care of themselves,” she added.

Comen pointed out a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found breast cancer diagnoses had dropped over 50% during the pandemic.

“That’s not because cancer is quarantining or sheltering in place,” she said. “It’s because people aren’t showing up for their screenings.”

Comen said this finding was worrying because it could result in “potentially thousands” of breast cancer-related deaths in the future.

“We want people to feel empowered to show up for their doctors’ appointments — for their mammograms — [and] to know that it’s safe,” Comen said. “Everybody in the hospital wears a mask.”

When it comes to modifiable risk factors for breast cancer, Comen said it’s important to maintain a healthy weight by eating healthy, exercising and decreasing alcohol consumption.

Still, Comen said she understands these suggestions are no easy feat, especially during a global pandemic.

“We know that everybody is circling the kitchen right now stressed and anxious. They may not be able to go to the gym. You may be drinking more,” Comen said. “It’s really important that as a community, collectively, we encourage each other to eat better. I do Zoom workouts with my girlfriends in the morning. And if you are turning to drinking too much, [it’s important] that you really reach out to a trained mental health professional to help with some of the stress and anxiety that so many people are feeling right now.”

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