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Breast Health:
Back in the Swim of Things

HealthReach, Fall 2012 | Page 6

Molly Sebastian, MD, FACS with breast cancer survivor Jennifer Johnston
Molly Sebastian, MD, FACS with breast cancer survivor Jennifer Johnston

Jennifer Johnston, 64, has always been good about having her yearly mammogram. In 2007, the results were normal. In 2008, she got a call to come back in for more images.

“After my sonogram, I knew it was bad news when the radiologist asked to see me,” Jennifer remembers. Her mammogram showed a one-centimeter tumor, which was confirmed by a biopsy. Jennifer was referred to Molly Sebastian, MD, FACS, breast surgeon, and Associate Medical Director of the Reinsch Pierce Family Center for Breast Health.

With a diagnosis like breast cancer, it’s vital to have complete trust in your doctor. Jennifer had an instant rapport with Dr. Sebastian. Part of their connection came from the fact that they both are avid swimmers, but it went far beyond their love of the water.

“Dr. Sebastian is a very empathetic person,” Jennifer says. “When I see her, I feel like I’m the most important person in the world to her. She pats me on my back, rubs my hand and does things like that to make me feel encouraged. She told me, ‘We’re going to be joined at the hip for the rest of your life.’”

Jennifer has always been diligent about her annual mammogram because her family medical history put her at increased risk. Both her mother and her aunt had breast cancer.

Dr. Sebastian explains that you may have a higher lifetime risk of breast cancer than the general population if you:

  • Have a significant number of family members with breast and/or ovarian cancer
  • Have a close relative with cancer in both breasts or a male relative with breast cancer
  • Have had a previous abnormal breast biopsy or radiation therapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Are of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage and have a close relative with breast or ovarian cancer

Because of Jennifer’s family history, Dr. Sebastian recommended genetic testing to determine the best course of treatment. Based on her results, Dr. Sebastian explained her surgical treatment options. Jennifer chose to have a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Because the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, she also underwent chemotherapy after surgery.

The American Cancer Society recommends that women have a screening mammogram every year starting at age 40. Thanks to Jennifer’s commitment to annual mammograms, her breast cancer was caught in time to be treated.

Breast cancer didn’t slow Jennifer down with her swimming. She swam a six-hour 10K (6.2-mile) race three days after her diagnosis and returned to swimming just a little over three weeks after surgery. Jennifer continued to swim as much as she could throughout chemotherapy, even if it was only 200 yards. “Swimming helps me mentally and physically. The day before my second chemo treatment, I swam 6000 yards,” Jennifer says.

“This summer, I swam across the Potomac River from National Harbor in Maryland across to the Wilson Bridge and came in first in my age group!” she said. She often wears a Virginia Hospital Center ‘Ladies for Life’ T-shirt to swimming events, where she spreads the word about the importance of annual mammograms.

“Not only is it important to get a mammogram, it’s important to compare the changes from year to year,” Jennifer says. “In just one year, not only did I develop breast cancer, it had spread into my lymph nodes. Even after Dr. Sebastian showed me where the lump was, it was still almost impossible to feel it. I’m really thankful about having a mammogram and getting help while the cancer was still easy to treat.”

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