Vanessa Echols shares her story about surviving breast cancer

Says early detection and mammograms are key

Hi Everyone!
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  I’m very excited to share with you, this special section of our website that we’ve devoted to breast cancer.  There’s a wealth of information here and I hope you’ll take time to read it and share with others important in your life.
As many of you may know, I was in the fight of my life in 2004.  I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer.  My treatment plan involved six months of chemotherapy (three different cancer drugs), four surgeries (including a mastectomy and reconstruction) and 30 radiation treatments.  Because of the number of lymph nodes I had removed, I developed a condition called lymphedema, which is why I always (unless I’m sleeping) wear a compression sleeve on my left arm, to control swelling. 
I have now been cancer-free for almost 15 years, and I am grateful for every single day. 
Early detection is key.  That’s not just a cliché.  For me, it’s what helped save my life.  I didn’t have any symptoms.  None.  I felt perfectly fine, looked healthy and thought I was.  It was not until I went in for my yearly mammogram, that a problem was detected.  During the mammogram, the technician noticed swollen lymph nodes under my arm, which then led to an ultrasound and a biopsy all in the same day.  Three days later, my doctor said the words none of us want to hear: “You have cancer.”

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You may have a similar story through your own experience or that of a family member, friend or co-worker.  But I share that with you because I am passionate about people taking charge of their health.  And in this case, mammograms are one of the important tools to do that.  This month, many health care facilities are offering discounted mammograms.  They are worth the investment.
I’ve heard so many stories from women who have a fear of mammograms.  So I have some encouraging news to share with you.  On Oct. 3, on Facebook Live, we are going to show you the process, step by step with a real patient.  We’ll also post a link here.  Our goal is to take away the stigma and fear that so many people still have. 
For those of you who are in the fight right now, I want you to keep fighting, as I’m sure your loved ones have already told you to do so.  For many years, I considered myself a cancer survivor.  But I also see myself as a cancer thriver, taking advantage of what I consider a second chance at life.
And I also want to mention, this is not just a women’s disease.  Each year, more than 2,000 MEN are also diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S.  We are in this fight together!
In addition to early detection, education is important in trying to prevent and fight cancer.  We hope to help you do that with all of the information we have gathered here.
Get informed and keep fighting!
Vanessa Echols
Vanessa Echols

Vanessa Echols, WFTV.com

I have been a member of the Eyewitness News team since 1992 and currently anchor Eyewitness News at Noon and 4 p.m. on Channel 9.