Roseann Humphrey felt a lump.
It was January 2012, and Humphrey was just 39.
The American Cancer Society recommends women start getting mammograms at 40. But after discovering something amiss during a self-examination, Humphrey accelerated her timetable.
It saved her life.
“I felt something,” said Humphrey, who manages the Capital Blue Cross Connect health and wellness centers in the Lehigh Valley. “So I listened to my body, and I went to get it checked.”
Humphrey’s mammogram showed a mass. An ultrasound revealed Stage 3 breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes.
It was a harrowing diagnosis, one far too many women hear. More than a quarter-million American women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and some 42,000 die from it. Only skin cancer is more common among women.
Dr. Jennifer Chambers, chief medical officer at Capital Blue Cross, said the best way for women to battle breast cancer is to talk to their doctors about individual risk factors. That will help determine the appropriate screening tests, the age to begin them, and the intervals between them.
“Breast cancer screening tests such as mammography will not prevent breast cancer, but they do allow for earlier identification for individuals that follow the suggested guidelines and schedules,” Dr. Chambers said. “Earlier identification and treatment are the keys to cure and overall survival, so please – please – talk to your doctor about breast cancer screening!”
Her long, hard fight
While most common in women 50 and older, breast cancer can plague younger women, as Humphrey so painfully learned. When first diagnosed, her mind swirled.
“I mean, your first thought is, of course, ‘Am I going to die?’ ” Humphrey said. “But then – and this is going to sound so vain – my head went to, ‘Am I going to lose my hair?’ I had very long hair at the time.”
Humphrey’s hair is long again these days, but only after a difficult, depleting fight. In 2012 alone, she had eight rounds of chemo, followed by a double mastectomy and lymph-nodes removal. Then came 37 rounds of radiation.
Since 2012, Humphrey has endured multiple reconstruction surgeries and still takes an estrogen blocker prescribed that year. She speaks to her oncologist every four months, and has bloodwork every six months.
Compassion and coverage
Humphrey has a heartfelt message for employers, particularly when it comes to the women who work for them.
“Your employees are human beings with families, and there are people that depend on them and love them,” said Humphrey, a 30-year Capital Blue Cross veteran whose son, Mason, was 12 when she was diagnosed. “They need to know you are carrying health insurance that will allow them the best care when it’s most needed, and Capital Blue Cross insurance did just that for me.
“When there are life-saving measures that have to be taken, the last thing you want to hear is, ‘Your insurance won’t cover that.’ That, to me, would not be acceptable.”
Capital Blue Cross agrees. That’s why the health insurer:
Not only covers annual mammograms starting at age 40, but makes them easier to access by cultivating relationships with mobile mammography providers who offer screening events at covered employer groups’ places of business.
Sends annual screening reminders to women with gaps in their mammogram histories.
Is among the region’s biggest supporters of breast cancer fundraisers, including the ACS’ Making Strides Walk for breast cancer and the Real Men Wear Pink campaign.
All of which has helped Humphrey move forward, body and soul, in her ongoing breast cancer fight. So far, so good.
“Thank God, yes,” she said. “You always still worry about it, sure. But if you are diagnosed with breast cancer, remember it’s not always a death sentence. You just have to have a positive attitude, and fight for better for yourself.”