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When Breast Cancer Breaks the Rules

Hospital news | Thursday, October 5, 2017
Lori Sumner

As a Physician Assistant, Lori Sumner understands the value of prevention and living a healthy lifestyle. The busy Mooresville wife and mom keeps up with her checkups and screenings, watches her diet, and works out on a regular basis. It was during one of her morning workouts in February that she noticed a pain on the far-right side of her chest that seemed unusual.

"I felt soreness and then discovered two lumps. I made an appointment that week to see my primary care provider and she agreed it didn't seem like it was anything to be concerned about, but we would go through the protocol of getting a mammogram and ultrasound."

The mammogram did not show any abnormalities in the breast tissue, but an ultrasound showed three areas of possible concern. A radiologist thought those areas may have been swollen lymph nodes, and Sumner was told to return for a follow up ultrasound in six weeks to see if the areas had improved.

"I just kind of forgot about it," said Sumner. "I was alarmed that the pain was there but I didn't worry too much about it. I had no family history. I was in the best shape of my life."

But the lumps didn't go away. Six weeks later she returned for another ultrasound and two weeks after that, a biopsy. Then on May 4, Sumner received news that no one wants to hear.

"The only thing I remember the radiologist saying is that things didn't go as we had hoped and that my biopsy was positive," Sumner recalled. "My medical knowledge helped me to wrap my head around the diagnosis to some extent. Still, in those first couple of days I couldn't even look at the pathology report, I was such in a state of shock over it."

Sumner's breast cancer didn't follow all the rules that we may think apply to the disease. None of her immediate family had ever been diagnosed with breast cancer. However, most women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history. Also, Sumner's story shows that while mammograms are important and can help to find breast cancer before symptoms start, they are not 100 percent effective.

Sumner returned to work in September at Pellegrino Family Medicine in Mooresville after recovering from surgery. She still has months of treatment ahead, including chemotherapy and radiation, but she says she's happy to get back to doing what she loves. On October 7, her colleagues will join her in Charlotte, along with her friends and family for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. While this won't be her first time at the race, she says this year will be special because she will be there with so many of her loved ones and with others who are fighting the same fight.

Sumner encourages women to have their annual mammograms, but most importantly, to recognize changes in the way their breasts look or feel. Warning signs can include nipple discharge, skin irritation or dimpling, breast pain, and swelling, even if you don't feel a lump.

"You think of a mammogram as a security blanket, but I think the biggest thing is knowing your own breast tissue and knowing what is normal for you and what is not. It's important to perform self-breast exams. If there's something abnormal, you should get it checked. It could save your life."

Lori Sumner, PA-C, is a member of the medical staff at Pellegrino Family Medicine, a part of the Iredell Physician Network and Iredell Health System.