I could have been dead if I went in at the age of 40. I'm just grateful I found it. —Bonnie Kunz
SALT LAKE CITY — About 400 Utah Highway Patrol troopers are wearing pink ribbons above their name plates until the end of the year in support of a fellow trooper recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
Trooper Bonnie Kunz, who learned she had breast cancer a few months ago, was surprised by the gesture. Any alteration to the official brown uniform, she said, is unusual.
"I was in shock," said Kunz, 39.
In February, Kunz visited her doctor for her annual exam and informed the physician that she had felt a lump in her breast. Her doctor didn’t feel it but asked Kunz if she wanted a referral for a mammogram. She said yes.
“I was kind of nervous, so I did put it off for a good month, month and a half,” she said. “If the doctor couldn’t feel it, then maybe it’s just nothing and it will go away.”
But it didn’t. The day after Memorial Day, Kunz went in for a mammogram and ultrasound. That’s when she found out she had cancer.
The mother of six had a mastectomy July 2 and is undergoing treatments. Kunz has her good, bad and ugly days, she said with a laugh. Taking care of her family has been challenging, but she’s grateful for the help from friends and family.
And she's deeply touched by what her co-workers have done.
“The enormous support that I've gotten from them has been tremendous — huge," Kunz said. "And I can't believe it. I truly can’t.”
Trooper Travis Williams, one of 15 people who work with Kunz in the squad at Salt Lake Community College, said the pink ribbon was a way to show support.
"I wanted to know how I could help," Williams said.
Kunz said she's eager to get back in her patrol car, but she's humbled by the support of her colleagues.
"It just has built a bond with all the guys I didn't have before," she said on a visit to campus Thursday.
Kunz's co-workers held a successful 5K fundraiser last month, and they wear the pink ribbons in solidarity and to show support for others battling breast cancer.
"Anything like that can happen to us at any time," Williams said.
Kunz's doctors said it's uncommon to develop breast cancer under 40.
"I could have been dead if I went in at the age of 40," she said. "I'm just grateful I found it."
Dr. Brett Parkinson, medical director at the Intermountain Medical Center Breast Care Center, said Kunz was fortunate to feel the lump early and to get a screening mammogram.
"What's so unique about Bonnie is the age at which she developed breast cancer," Parkinson said. "She's only 39, and it's quite uncommon to develop it under 40. However, upon feeling a lump, she took the necessary steps by getting the right tests performed. We were able to find the problem, give her a diagnosis, and her treatment and recovery are going really well."
That quick action likely saved Kunz's life, he said.
"If you think something is off, something probably is off. Get it checked out," Kunz said.
Unfortunately, some Utah women may be confused about when to get a screening mammogram.
In 2009, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended that women not have regular screenings between the ages of 40 and 49.
New research shows that women benefit from beginning screening at 40. A recent study published by Harvard researchers and current research from the Intermountain Medical Center Breast Care Center shows the increasing importance and value of getting the screenings in that age range for women.
The Harvard study looked at 7,300 women, 609 of whom died of breast cancer. Seventy-one percent of those who died had not had a regular screening. Fifty percent were under the age of 50.
"Bonnie's case really underscores the need for women to be vigilant in doing monthly self exams and having a screening mammogram once they turn 40," Parkinson said.