UVA Doctor Credits Early Detection to Her Successful Fight Against Cancer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A doctor at the University of Virginia is sharing her story of overcoming breast cancer in hopes of giving other women the push they might need to get their annual screening.
October is the UVA Breast Care Center's busiest month of the year. One-in-eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer, so Nicole Kelleher wants to make sure that diagnosis is as early as possible.
Kelleher, 36, is an assistant professor of oncology rehab at the University of Virginia, but she is also a patient. She started early screenings at the university's High-Risk Breast and Ovarian Cancer Program four year ago after losing three family members under age 50 to the disease.
In March, a mammogram confirmed her worst fear.
"It was the first screening that I had after I had stopped breast feeding my second child where this cancer was detected," she said. '"Top of mind was absolutely my little children: I have a 2 and a 4-year-old, and the most critical thing for me is to be there for them."
Kelleher said she jumped into treatment with her colleague and breast cancer specialist, Shayna Showalter.
"The goal is to detect breast cancer at its earliest stage, because then the treatments are much earlier than when you are treating someone with a later-stage breast cancer. So unfortunately, we do often times see people who have neglected screening and present to us with a later-stage cancer, and then that cancer is more likely to entail a more difficult surgery, potentially chemotherapy, and maybe radiation therapy," said Showalter, associate professor of surgery.
Because of that early detection, Kelleher didn't require chemotherapy, and just finished her final reconstruction surgery three weeks ago. She is now cancer free, and wants to make sure other women have that opportunity too.
"There is absolutely nothing more important in your life. You might think that you don't have enough time for this, but if you take a moment and step back and look at the big picture, nothing should take priority over getting a screening," said Kelleher.
Doctors say people should get their annual mammogram, and not just wait for a reminder during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.