SALT LAKE CITY — One in eight women can expect a breast cancer diagnosis in their lives.
It's an emerging reality that Ginger Johnson, founder of Happy Chemo!, had to learn the hard way.
Johnson was diagnosed five years ago at age 31. She was five months pregnant with her third child. At the time, though the diagnosis blindsided her, she decided she could either "sit and hurt or find a way to go out and help."
"There were some days in the chemotherapy room that I was grateful I just had breast cancer," she said, adding that she knows the magnitude of her comment. Johnson quickly decided that her generally mundane chemotherapy treatments needed some jazzing up, so when BINGO attempts failed, she contacted various local and national companies to get as many freebies and discount coupons she could muster, and handed them out to other patients on her scheduled visits.
Johnson is one of a growing number who survive the gripping disease and her emerging organization is helping others to do so as well.
Utah's KUED (Ch. 7) is planning to air a new documentary, "Remembering the Faces of Breast Cancer," on Monday at 9 p.m., that will update a 1994 showing of the award-winning "Faces of Breast Cancer," produced by Twinkle Chisholm. Her original film profiled five women in varying stages of the disease. While two of the women and others have since become victims of breast cancer, many women continue to fight it and the film aims to honor each struggle.
It will be followed by a 30-minute special, focusing on the advances in research and treatment and the support networks available in Utah, including Johnson's efforts.
"There is a big difference between talking to someone who's been through it and someone who hasn't," she said. Viewers will be encouraged to call 801-585-5465 during the show Monday evening, for a free cancer information packet that will be mailed to them.
"I try to treat all my patients with the very best I have to offer," said Dr. Leigh Neumeyer, a surgeon at the Huntsman Cancer Institute and professor of surgery at the University of Utah. It's not unusual, she said, for people to present themselves in her office after ignoring a lump found in their breast or not getting annual mammograms.
"Five years in between mammograms isn't adequate to catch the disease early," she said, adding that women shouldn't ignore their breasts, that self breast exams can be effective.
There are few forms of breast cancers, Neumeyer said, that won't show up on at least one of the tests available to screen for the disease. She said that because of early detection, only 25 percent of her patients end up needing a full mastectomy, and up to 80 percent of them don't have a family history of cancer.
"Early detection is critical," Neumeyer said. "Women often set aside their own care and that is ill-advised."3 comments on this story
Unfortunately, Neumeyer said, the overall cure rate has not changed much over the years, but treatments and detection efforts have improved, which means lives are being saved.
Ken Verdoia, KUED director of production, hopes the film gets people talking, as he believes "virtually every person in our community has a connection to responding to breast cancer," either personally or through some social association.
"Support is essential," Johnson said. "The biggest thing a family member can do is try to understand and to realize that they won't have all the answers … and have a deep sense of love and concern and do your best."