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Published on July 20, 2015

A lifesaving screening: How one decision helped Vivian Madison beat cancer

40, 50, 60. Milestone birthdays have a way of creeping up—and getting folks thinking about what lies ahead.

VivianIt was a milestone birthday that made Vivian Madison think about her health. And when she did, she made a decision that saved her life.

“When I turned 60, I got a full physical,” Vivian says. She had been under a doctor’s care for her high blood pressure. But she was behind on routine screenings. “So I went and got everything done,” she says.

A wise first step

“When Vivian came in, we talked about what health screenings she should consider,” says Maria de los Angeles Gonzalez-Prado, MD, an internal medicine physician with Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital.

Primary care providers like Dr. Gonzalez-Prado talk to each of their patients about health screenings at every regular checkup. During these appointments, the doctor will record and update your health history. And that helps him or her recommend the best times for screenings. For example, if your uncle had colon cancer, you might need to get a colonoscopy earlier than usual.

“When a screening catches something early, we may be able to treat it through a lifesaving procedure rather than when there are symptoms and it may be too late,” says Dr. Gonzalez-Prado. “So Vivian was wise to take that first step.”

‘I didn’t believe it’

Vivian’s screenings included a routine mammogram. And when it revealed something abnormal, she had follow-up tests. They all showed the same thing: stage III breast cancer.

“It was scary, because I’m healthy, and there was no breast cancer in my family,” Vivian says. “I didn’t believe it at first.”

Dr. Gonzalez-Prado continues: “After her diagnosis, Vivian followed through with the recommendations—with a biopsy, with oncology. She did all the right things to take charge of her health.” Based on compassionate advice from her cancer doctor and her breast surgeon, Vivian decided a mastectomy was the right path for her.

Surgery and cancer treatment were hard for this single mom of one daughter. But her faith and the support she received from work colleagues and the Mercy Fitzgerald team helped.

“They were wonderful at Mercy—so caring and concerned, from the doctors and nurses to the staff in the infusion center where they give chemotherapy,” Vivian says. “One nurse was so kind. She understood, because she also had cancer. She said, ‘You’ll get through it.’” And in getting through it, Vivian learned she was stronger than she thought.

‘Don’t be afraid’

Vivian believes her screening mammogram saved her life. “They caught it just in time,” she says. Dr. Gonzalez-Prado agrees. “If she hadn’t come in—who knows when it would have been found? Now she is cancer-free.”

“I’m walking proof that screenings work,” Vivian says. “So don’t be afraid. I was afraid at one time—of what they might find. Of how I’d handle it. But I handled it very well. I’m back working full-time. I’m still here!”

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