Breast cancer can affect a wide range of ages

Jamie Turner dressed in fall outfit, posing with her husband and three chidren.
Parkwest cancer patient Jamie Turner with her husband David and their children, Carter, Caden and Cameron.
William C. Gibson, MD

Working as a nurse practitioner and parenting three small children with her husband, the last thing on Jamie Turner’s mind was breast cancer. When she felt a small lump in her breast one day in May of 2021, she disregarded it. “I was actually weaning my 1-year-old from breastfeeding,” Turner says. “I thought it was just a clogged milk duct, so I kind of let it be, thinking it would go away eventually.” Six months later she underwent a double mastectomy at Parkwest Medical Center. Today she shares her story to let other women know breast cancer has no age bias.

Letting It Go

The lump didn’t concern Turner much, but a coworker encouraged her to get it checked out anyway. She didn’t, still thinking it was a clogged milk duct and nothing to worry about. Advanced digital mammography made the results clear. She not only had a mass in her right breast, she had something growing in her left breast too. An ultrasound and biopsy followed. At the age of 33, Turner found out she had cancer in both breasts. In her right breast, she had invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast
cancer, starting in the milk duct and breaking through to surrounding tissue. In her left breast, she had non-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS),  which means cancer cells were in the lining of a milk duct but hadn’t spread yet. She was
shocked. “I thought that could not happen to me,” Turner says. “I had no family history; I was so young,  my kids were young. How could that even be possible?” Breast cancer is more common in older women, but it can happen at any age. The risk increases when a person has a family history of breast cancer, but it affects many women who don’t.

Fighting Back

Turner drew support from the Knoxville-area group Breast Connect and included her loved ones in her battle plan. “My family, faith and friends walked me through this battle and cheered me on through every milestone,” she says. After chemotherapy, the bilateral mastectomy was performed at Parkwest by breast cancer surgeon William C. Gibson, MD. “She was very strong during chemo, [which she had] prior to surgery. That shrank her tumor  considerably, which makes for a better surgical result,” Dr. Gibson says, noting that most women in Turner’s age group take comfort in being more aggressive in their approach to breast cancer. “I think there’s a lot of peace of mind in the risk reduction of having all the breast tissue removed so that they can get back to life,” Dr. Gibson says. “Jamie is a young mother and wife, and she’s a professional in health care as well. She wants to do all of those things without having the haunting fear of breast cancer over her in the future.”

As soon as Dr. Gibson performed the mastectomy, plastic surgeon David Lo, MD, stepped in to begin the reconstruction process with tissue expanders. The expanders can gradually stretch as the skin heals and be replaced  with permanent implants later. Turner was secure in her decision to have the mastectomy, confident in her surgeons and happy with her choice of hospital. “I delivered all three of my children at Parkwest, so Parkwest was home to me,” she says. “From the staff to the nurses to the doctors to recovery – the whole process – the care and compassion were just exceptional.”

Turner says she’s doing great now – her life is as busy and blessed as ever. But today she takes a pause to deliver a message to other young women. The message is that breast cancer can happen to anyone. “That is why monthly self-breast exams and yearly mammograms are incredibly important to catch the disease at its earliest stage,” she says. “If there is any question or concern
a lump, go get it evaluated.”

Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center

Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center is accredited by the American College of Radiology as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence and offers personalized services. In addition to advanced mammography in 2D and 3D, ultrasound is available when a closer look is needed for the most accurate diagnosis. Stereotactic and ultra- sound biopsies are performed on-site, and genetic testing is available to determine the likelihood of cancer being found in your family. If cancer is found, each patient’s case is carefully reviewed by a multidisciplinary board to advance treatment and execute the best plan of care possible. A nurse navigator serves as a liaison and an advocate through treatment and into recovery. These services have helped save the lives of countless women throughout the region.

Early Detection Makes a Difference

Two women in pink workout attire, showing their muscles.More than 2 .9 million women in the United States who have been diagnosed with breast cancer are alive today, primarily because of early detection. The five-year survival rate is close to 100 percent if cancer is detected before it has a chance to spread. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to be aware of the importance of getting a mammogram. Mammograms can detect breast cancer in the earliest stages when it’s easier to treat. Yearly screenings are recommended for all women age 40 and older.

However, anytime a lump is detected in the breast , it’s important to visit  your doctor and ask about a mammogram. Breast cancer is more common in older women, but it can also affect younger women, men and even children. Women who are at a higher risk of breast cancer may need to begin breast screenings at a younger age. Discuss your risk factors with your physician to determine what is best for you.

Can I Afford It?

Some women may hesitate about scheduling an annual screening mammogram out of fear that it might be too expensive, but the cost is covered by most insurance providers. There are no co-payments or deductible s, and a doctor’s referral is not required. Talk to
your insurance provider to confirm cost and coverage.

Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center is part of Covenant Health, the region’s largest cancer-fighting network. To learn more, visit TreatedWell.com/BreastCenter. For more information, or to schedule a mammogram with Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center call 865-373-7010.