My name is Dr. Michelle Koellermeier and I am a breast cancer survivor. I had my second mammogram on September 7th, 2012. My previous mammogram was December 31st of 2009, after my 40th birthday. It was fast and easy and I had it performed in between delivering babies before the New Year.
Two years later my husband was at the airport awaiting the arrival of his parents. There was a woman sitting behind him who received a distressing phone call. Then an old friend was passing by and recognized her. She was crying. The friend asked why she was crying, She said her gynecologist just called her and told her she had breast cancer.
My husband overheard her conversation but never turned to look at her or speak to her. He immediately called me at work and asked me when I had my last mammogram. I told him it was when I turned 40. He proceeded to tell me the story of the woman in the airport, the woman who he had never seen her face or spoke to. He asked me to get a mammogram. This was in July of 2012. I told him I was young, healthy and didn’t smoke, and did not have a family history of breast cancer. I didn’t take any medications to increase my risk of breast cancer. I did not have any palpable masses. I told him I was more likely to be struck by lightening than have breast cancer. I was irritated that he was bothering me with this at work. I needed to finish up my day to get home and clean up before his parents arrived.
On Friday September 7, 2012, our anniversary, I called the Breast Center at Theda Clark and asked for a favor to be worked in to get a mammogram that day. I thought it would be a nice anniversary gift and a way to stop my husband from hounding me and threatening to erase my DVR recordings of Real Housewives of New Jersey, my favorite!!
I had the mammogram performed, then more images. I kept asking if I could get dressed after each set of images. The radiologist then requested a breast ultrasound. The ultrasound was performed and the US tech (a patient from my office) was very quiet and was measuring multiple areas of my right breast. My heart sank. She left the room and came back with the radiologist. I knew as soon as he walked in the room I had cancer. If the physician comes in, it is bad news!
He biopsied multiple sites and after more than 3 hours, I was able to get dressed and go home. The worst anniversary of our 16 year marriage.
It was the longest weekend of my life. On Monday I waited at the pathologist’s office to ask him to look at my biopsies ASAP. He called me an hour later and told me I had breast cancer. I screamed at him, began crying and hung up!! I went through many emotions those days to follow. Sadness. Anger. Self blame and worry. I worried I would not see my children graduate high school, go to college or marry. I blamed myself for not doing what I tell my patients to do every day – an annual screening mammogram.
After bilateral mastectomy, breast reconstruction, 6 months of horrific chemotherapy, no hair and then a full year after of “not as bad chemotherapy” (which also sucked), I’ve had too many surgeries and tests to count. I emerged alive and a survivor. I will live to see my grandchildren born and may even deliver them, all because of one mammogram.
The mammogram I had on Friday September 7, 2012 saved my life! Please schedule your annual mammogram at age 40 and every year after, it may save your life. It saved mine. The support I received from the Neenah community was amazing and I cannot thank you enough for supporting Breast Cancer Awareness.
Michelle Koellermeier, MD, is an OB/GYN at Women's Care of Wisconsin at Theda Clark Medical Center in Neenah.