A cancer diagnosis is never easy.
It’s even more difficult when two family members get the same news in one day.
Even more shocking, is when it’s the same distinctive type of cancer like Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).
DCIS is a form of cancer where abnormal cells are found in the lining of the breast milk duct.
Experts say it can be highly treated if detected early. If not, it can spread to the surrounding breast tissue.
A Beckley woman has beat DCIS.
Today, she and her cousin — who got the same diagnosis on the same day — are doing well.
But it’s an experience she’ll never forget.
The story began for Rosemary Richmond Carter, 69, of Beckley in 2016 when she woke up to a change in her breast.
The former registered nurse was very aware of the importance of doing self-breast exams. She did them regularly.
Carter was always extra cautious when it came to her breasts because breast cancer runs on her mom’s side of the family.
She says she always had a strange feeling she would one day get the diagnosis herself.
“I knew it was going to come because my mother had breast cancer. She was 74 when she had a mastectomy in 1997,” she said.
“There’s too much breast cancer in my mother’s family. I knew there was a great possibility I would have it.”
Carter’s suspicions were spot on. But it took several doctors to do something about it, she says.
“I got up one day and my husband said have you noticed you have a nipple change. I said no,” Carter recalled.
She just had a mammogram a few months earlier. The results were normal.
Carter took note of what her husband saw. She immediately called her Beckley gynecologist and had another mammogram and ultrasound.
“The doctor who ordered the test said everything was fine,” Carter recalled.
But she still had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right.
Carter called another doctor who sent her for another ultrasound and mammogram. She also requested a biopsy in the area she noticed the change in.
“He said I can’t see any changes in this ultrasound,” said Carter.
But she was still worried and felt an urge to get a biopsy.
“He said Rosemary, you’ve got 18 milk glands where should I start? And I said, how about where the problem is,” she said.
“I came home so mad and upset.”
Carter felt her doctors weren’t listening to her. She was convinced that something wasn’t right with her body.
In a last-ditch effort, she called a doctor at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville Virginia.
A few weeks later, she made the trek to UVA to see the head of the Breast Care Center. She had yet another mammogram and ultrasound.
“This doctor said, ‘Well Rosemary, it looks like you need the biopsy you mentioned,” she said.
Carter says the UVA doctor told her he was surprised the local doctors missed it.
He scheduled her for a biopsy that she had been asking for on January 12.
A week prior, Carter’s cousin Barbara who lives in Waynesboro Virginia called to tell her that she too was having a biopsy for suspicious cancer. Barbara’s biopsy was ironically scheduled on the same day.
The women would soon get shocking news. They both had DCIS.
When Carter’s UVA doctor talked to her about cancer, “He said ‘Do you know what that is?’ I said yes. I have breast cancer cells, but they’re not active yet. But they will be.”
Carter was faced with the decision to have a lumpectomy or mastectomy with or without breast reconstruction.
Carter elected to have a bi-lateral mastectomy without reconstruction.
Carter says her choice to not have reconstruction was an easy one.
“I don’t need breasts. My husband didn’t marry me for my breasts he doesn’t mind it at all,” she said.
“If I didn’t have his support, maybe I wouldn’t be this strong.”
Carter’s surgery was scheduled for April 2017, but doctors had a difficult time intubating her that day, so her surgery was rescheduled.
She traveled 198 miles again from Beckley to Virginia for the rescheduled surgery in July 2017.
Little did she know, the surgery would again be postponed.
She got a call after she already traveled to Virginia that her UVA doctor got stuck in New York due to bad flooding, she says.
His flight was canceled and she would need to be rescheduled again.
“I told him my biggest fear was my cancer cells will turn into cancer before I get this mastectomy,” Carter said.
But she’d have to wait it out.
Her third surgery was scheduled for August 22, 2017. She was anxiously awaiting the big day.
Carter had a thorough medical workup prior to the surgery date. These tests resulted in more surprising news.
“My ductal carcinoma had turned into cancer. But it had just turned into cancer,” she said.
Again, Carter’s worries were spot on.
She finally got the surgery she needed on the third attempt. Luckily her DCIS was caught in time.
“I didn’t have to have radiation or chemo. I had the breast removed and that was it. He took 99.99 percent,” she said.
“He said you will never have to worry about breast cancer again.”
Today both Carter and her cousin Barbara are doing well.
Carter encourages all women to do regular breast exams, get recommended mammograms and trust their gut so any form of breast cancer will be caught as early as possible.
“If you know something is wrong with your breasts and your doctor doesn’t take you seriously get a second opinion. And if you have to, get a third opinion,” she said.
To any woman living with breast cancer, Carter says, “Be a female warrior.”
“There are so many things they can do to help you. Don’t be afraid of it. Say I’m not going to accept this, I’m going to fight it.”