Reno City Councilmember Neoma Jardon talks about overcoming cancer
On Sept. 24, the Regional Transportation Commission launched its new bus that is intended to raise awareness about issues regarding dense breast tissue. The big pink bus is project of Each One, Tell One., a local nonprofit, and sponsored by Renown Regional Medical Center. Neoma Jardon, who recently completed her radiation treatment for breast cancer, attributes the group’s public awareness campaign with saving her life, giving her the proper questions to ask at her annual mammogram, which spotted an aggressive cancer before it metastasized. More information about Each One, Tell One. can be found on the group’s website, www.eachonetellone.com.
Tell me about your cancer diagnosis.
My breast cancer was discovered during a routine mammogram. I had some heightened awareness about dense breast tissue through the Each One, Tell One. organization prior to my mammogram. It prompted me to be much more aware about doing self-exams and being more in tune with my own body and symptoms and things to be watching out for. Most importantly, it kept a kind of in-front-of-mind awareness about it because it was local. It gave some local reliability and relate-ability to this issue.
You know those people so you trust them.
I know them, and I trust them, yes. I heard the story of [local television anchor] Wendy Damonte and her mother’s passing from breast cancer because it wasn’t detected early enough because she didn’t have the right exam. She had dense breast tissue, and by the time it was discovered, it was too late. And so, when I went in to get my mammogram, I knew the questions that I needed to ask. I knew to make sure to tell my doctor of some tenderness that I was having. Certainly, there was no lump, nothing to that effect. That prompted the doctor to do the screenings to suit my dense breast tissue.
So how are those screenings different than a typical mammogram?
They are not just your typical mammogram because dense breast tissue is similar to cancer. Finding cancer in dense breast tissue is similar to trying to find a snowflake in a snowstorm unless you have these additional screenings, which are ultrasounds, and some new technologies that have come out that help decipher early cancers in dense breast tissue. Otherwise, it all looks like a fuzzy TV screen.
In a regular mammogram, it's the dense tumors they're looking for. So if it's in the middle of dense tissue, you can't spot it.
It doesn’t stand out, so, number 1, you need to identify if you have dense breast tissue, and many women do. So you need to ask the question first, to make sure when you’re having your routine mammogram that you’re asking, “Do I have dense breast tissue? Once it’s identified if you do, ask your doctor if you can have some of the new screenings, like ultrasound and SonoCine [automated whole breast ultrasound] exams to identify early-stage cancer due to your dense breast tissue, which during a normal mammogram may not be detected. So asking the right questions is critical. Telling your doctor any symptoms you might have. In my case, there was not lump. It wasn’t really pain; it was just tenderness. So I had the appropriate screenings, and it was determined that I did have breast cancer at one of its earliest stages so it was caught literally at probably the earliest stage it is possible to catch breast cancer. I had surgery to remove the ductal cancer. It had not spread beyond the ducts. So I had surgery to remove it, and I just finished two months of everyday radiation—ten days ago I finished.
What does “ductal” mean?
The cancer that I had was called ductal cancer in situ. What that means is it’s cancer in the milk duct, but it’s in one place. So they did the biopsy first. The worst part was the waiting, the initial waiting in the waiting room after your normal mammogram was just a little too long, and that’s when I knew something might be wrong. Then the nurse called me back: “We’d like to do some additional screenings; come back in, let’s do some more screenings.” Then when I told the doctor I’d been having some tenderness, then he said, “OK, we’re now going to do the ultrasound as well.” That led to the doctor saying, “Come into my office.” That was when he put up on the screen what might be cancer. But it wasn’t until I had the biopsy, where they literally pull some of the tissue out and tested it, that it was determined to be cancer. … And then you start going into the question phase. “What does this mean? How is it going to impact my family? How am I going to tell my family? How am I going to tell my son?” That was heartbreaking. Anytime someone utters the word “cancer,” your immediate reaction is not a good one. No one wants to get the diagnosis of cancer. Certainly in my case, through talking to the doctors and getting some research, my cancer was caught so early that it was confined to the duct, and through surgery and radiation, my cure-rate and my probability of not having any other issues is very high.
So is that a lumpectomy?
Yes, that’s exactly what it is. In my case, rather than being a lump, there was a duct. There was no actual lump; it was in the duct. Cancer cells kind of look like little white dots on the radiology exam. It’s when those little white dots start to cluster together and a have a shape to them, that it starts to signify that something is going haywire. That’s what happened in my case. I have no family history, and I had genetic testing done to show that I don’t have any mutated genes or anything that would predispose me to cancer, but I still got it.
Right. And it seems to me they just recently changed how often women are supposed to do mammograms. Would yours have been caught if you'd waited?
I doubt it. And I’ll tell you why. There are some new guidelines coming out from some of the insurance companies that say unless you have some of the high-risk probabilities, you are recommended to have your breast exam every two years. I can tell you if I had waited two years, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you. The indicators of my cancer had the word aggressive, and it had changed so much from the prior year’s mammogram, that if I had waited another 12 months, I wouldn’t have just had surgery and radiation. I would have been talking about something far more serious. Or may not have been talking at all.
So tell me about the nonprofit.
Each one, Tell One. was founded by Wendy Damonte and Heather Reimer. She too had had a standard mammogram, but had a promotional thing where she worked at Renown where you got some insurance points if you did some health-screening things. She just had a mammogram clear, and she decided, “OK, I’m going to get these points from my insurance, I’m going to have this additional screening for dense breast tissue.” Low and behold, she had a pretty significant lump and had to have surgery right away. They both initiated Each One, Tell One., which was not only to promote “Talk to your doctor about having breast exams,” but make sure you’re asking your doctor about dense breast tissue. Do you have it? If you have it, are you having the right screenings to make sure cancer is caught at its earliest stage. They went down to the legislature, I don’t believe it was this session, it was the one before, and got some legislation passed. I immediately called Wendy and Heather up and said, “It’s your awareness campaign, you promoting not only get em checked, but ask your doc the right questions, get the right screenings. You literally saved my life.”
So Each One, Tell One. Are you supposed to tell a friend about what you've learned now?
Yes, the whole thing is, “Hey, we’re all busy mothers, wives, businesswomen, all those things, all those house responsibilities, husband responsibilities. First off, stop putting it off. Stop postponing that appointment. Stop canceling that appointment. The idea was if we just tell one person, and they tell one person, and they tell one person, that’s how Each One, Tell One. came to be. “Did you hear Wendy’s story? Did you hear Heather’s story? Did you hear Neoma’s story? That’s how her cancer got caught because she asked the right questions because Heather told her about it.” That’s the premise behind it.