Breast Health Network

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Flower3bhnsmallThe Women, Survivors and Caregivers of Breast Health Network

Five Breast Health Network employees know what it’s like to survive breast cancer. That’s why they’ve dedicated their careers to fighting breast cancer the best way they know how – by helping to find it through yearly mammograms and early detection.

In the U.S., 1 in 8 women is diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. These women are survivors helping others in the fight against breast cancer. 

Full video of LaDean, Lois, Crista, April & Stephanie

The phone call that changed her life

Stephanie
A breast cancer diagnosis not only changed Stephanie DeClerck Oaks’ life, it led her down an entirely different career path focused on helping save women’s lives.  

Diagnosed in July 2001 when she was 41, Oaks, of Enid, was driving her teenage son to a track meet when she got the phone call that every woman fears.

“I couldn’t move for a while. Once I heard I had breast cancer, I didn’t hear anything else. I couldn’t get past it.”

Following treatment for ductal carcinoma in situ with microscopic invasion that included a mastectomy, Oaks knew she had a new calling. While going through breast reconstruction, she decided she’d refocus her life on battling breast cancer, so she went to school to be a mammographer. 

“All of the people who helped me through my diagnosis and treatment were great, but none of them had breast cancer,” she said. “I would still been doing public relations if I hadn’t had breast cancer. It changed my life at 41 … and for the good.”

Today, she works at Breast Health Network Edmond, 2601 Kelley Pointe Parkway, with Dr. Debra Mitchell, the physician who diagnosed her in 2001. Every day she does screening mammograms, biopsies, ultrasounds and anything else, she can to help women catch cancer early.

Over the years, she’s seen dramatic improvements in technology that help early detection, including 3-D mammography, MRI, lymph node mapping and more.

“Every picture we take we’re looking for cancer. It’s so very important,” she said. “Having had breast cancer myself, it makes it very important to me. Doctors can’t diagnose something if they can’t see it, so I feel like diagnosis starts with that image.”

Oaks makes the hour-and-a-half-long trek from her home in Enid to work in Edmond so she can come to work and help save lives.

“It gives you a passion for what you do when it’s touched you personally. I do the best I can for each and every patient that I see,” she said.

And she never misses a chance to tell women how important early diagnosis is.

“They should never skip their mammogram … so much can change in just a year’s time,” she said. 


The right place, the right time

April

Being in the right place at the right time saved April Menge’s life. Working as a mammographer has its perks, like the ease of getting a mammogram. 

In 2009, then-35-year-old Menge was gearing up for Breast Cancer Awareness Month with her co-workers at what is now Breast Health Network Northwest. She’d worked in mammography since 1994, and thought it was time to get what radiologists call a “baseline” mammogram to compare against her future mammograms.

“They immediately saw cancer,” said Menge. “From that point forward was the fight of my life.”

At the time, Menge’s children were 8 and 11, out of school for fall break. Breast Health Network radiologist Dr. Richard Falk told Menge it was good the cancer was found early. She was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ, two forms of breast cancer.

“I put on a happy face for my kids and I went back to work, but I didn’t know what to do next,” she said.

Menge went on to have a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, having eight surgeries in less than two years. One of the medications caused heart damage and other health issues related to her treatment.

“I had no family history,” said Menge. “I’m a survivor because I got a mammogram.”

Now, Menge works at Breast Health Network Southwest, overseeing staff there and seeing patients who come in for mammograms.

“I thank God that he has put me in an environment where if I can help a person it’s a blessing to us both,” she said. “If they have questions, I can now say with confidence what comes next. It’s a long journey and sometimes it feels like the rug is pulled out from under you … but there is light at the end.”

Menge says she knows there was a reason she got breast cancer. She’s more patient now and she sees things she may have overlooked before. 

“Every day is a gift and I feel God’s given me this gift to help other people,” said Menge. “Through your life, you have speed bumps. This was another speed bump and God had a purpose. He wanted me to look at life in a bigger circle.” 


More than just a smile

Crista
Crista Lovett, 44, is the smile patients see as they come in and as they’re leaving appointments at Breast Health Network Edmond, 2601 Kelley Pointe Parkway.

As lead patient services representative, Lovett warmly greets patients and helps them get to their appointments, but most of them have no idea Lovett is herself a breast cancer survivor.

At age 36, Lovett was doing a self-breast exam and felt a pea-sized lump in her breast, so she talked to her doctor and scheduled a mammogram.

In December 2007, Lovett was told she had breast cancer: stage 1 in situ carcinoma.  

“Reality hit me … I have cancer,” she said. “I started in the whole crazy up-and-down world of being a cancer patient.”

She talked to her then-14-and 7-year-old daughters and assured them everything would be OK, even though she knew no one could tell her exactly what her cancer journey would be like. Lovett went through 3 ½ months of chemo and 9 ½ weeks of radiation. It was an emotional roller coaster, but she lived.

Nine years out, she now embraces the word “survivor.” And as women come in the door and leave the clinic, she never forgets the emotions she went through on her journey.

“I’m proud to say I’m a survivor. Breast cancer affects every part of you that makes you a woman, your breasts, your hair … it makes you feel a little damaged. But you spring back.”

Lovett puts herself where the patient is and tries to support them through the process, even if they don’t know what might be around the corner.

“You have that mindset of someone’s life might be different today,” she said. “Sometimes women come in and their life might change by the time the appointment is over.”

Lovett said most of the time, things are routine. But she still beams a reassuring smile and does all she can to treat them like family.

“Annual mammograms are something we all have to do as women – and I do whatever I can to make it comfortable,” she said.

​Traveling ​the state to help save lives

LaDean
As LaDean Smith crisscrosses Oklahoma behind the wheel of the Breast Health Network mobile coach, at times her job is more akin to a long-haul trucker’s than a medical professional’s.

“But Smith’s true colors really shine when the 14-foot-tall coach stops, the steps come down and women start walking in … because she’s there to catch breast cancer early and save women’s lives.

“I’ve probably driven 50,000 miles in that mobile unit,” said Smith, a breast-imaging radiologist. “I’ve gone up to the Panhandle to the southwest corner, to the southeast corner – I’ve covered the whole state. I’ve seen parts of the state I never would have seen otherwise.”

Smith has been a mammographer since 1987 and started working on the mobile coach in 2006. That same year, performing mammograms became more than a job for Smith when her routine mammogram found ductal carcinoma in situ, a form of breast cancer. With her own breast cancer diagnosis, early detection in others became Smith’s mission.

Following a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and undergoing radiation, Smith has remained cancer-free.

“I’m very fortunate they found it so early,” she said. “I’m still on this coach 10 years later, hoping and praying every day these women have nothing in their mammograms.”

Every day, Smith sets up the coach and readies it for the first patient. She typically sees around 40 patients a day, many in parts of Oklahoma that don’t have mammography centers. She knows without the mobile coach, many of the women wouldn’t get their mammograms at all. That’s what gets Smith out of bed every morning, often in a hotel room far away from her Woodward home. She brings the mammograms to them.

“What I love about the mobile unit is we go to these women’s workplaces and their communities. They live in small towns without hospitals or breast care clinics, sometimes within 100 miles,” she said. “So we’re there for women who can’t get mammograms any other way. Even if we don’t find anything on their mammograms, I feel like we make people more aware – then they’ll call their sisters and mothers to get their mammograms. We do this to save one more life.”

“I want to find everybody’s breast cancer early enough that they have it as easy as I did. I didn’t lose my breasts and I only had five days of radiation instead of weeks. That’s what our purpose is – to find breast cancer early enough that women don’t have to lose their breasts or have to have chemo, and maybe not even have radiation at all,” she said.

And she encourages women everywhere to get a yearly screening mammogram.

“I tell them as long as my insurance is going to pay for it and as long as I can make it up those steps, I’m going to have it done every year,” said Smith. “For having your mammogram and having it come out clear, the peace of mind for a whole year is worth coming up those steps and giving 15 minutes of your day.”  

​More than 100,000 women screened ​

Lois

Lois Meador saw more than 100,000 patients during her quarter century as a mammographer, taking the images that physicians use to detect breast cancer.

Meador, who retired from Breast Health Network Northwest in September 2017 and passed away peacefully due to natural causes in January 2017, saw a lot of change over those years. From the time she was diagnoses with breast cancer in 1981 until her retirement, she witnessed many advancements. 

“A lot of things were different in the medical field at that time,” said Meador before she passed away in 2017.  “My OB-GYN found a lump and sent me to get a mammogram. In those days, mammography was a lot different … nothing showed up on my mammogram.”

Because they could feel the lump despite it not showing up on mammogram images, Meador was admitted to the hospital for a biopsy (now biopsies are done quickly in an outpatient setting.) Doctors told her she had breast cancer and had her stay in the hospital for a mastectomy.

About a decade later, Meador started working at what was then called Oklahoma Breast Care Center in northwest Oklahoma City. It first opened its doors in 1986 and is now part of Breast Health Network.

“It was a joy,” said Meador. “I wanted people to feel like I was welcoming them into my home  … that this was their breast office.”

Meador said she didn’t think about all the lives she might have helped save over the years. She just continued to greet patients, give them their mammograms, motherly hugs and contagious smile.

“I hope I’ve made a difference,” she said. “Being a mammographer gave me a place in the world. That time just went by so fast.”

Meador said she’s a survivor because her cancer was caught early. She hopes she’s helped give other women the same chance. She urges women to remember to get their annual mammograms and take that first step.

“It’s sad and hard to know someone has found cancer in their breast. But it’s worse if they don’t find it,” Meador said. “If you find it, you’ve got a fighting chance.”

Virginia Lois Meador, born Jan. 13, 1941, died at her hone Jan. 18, 2017. We are proud to honor her legacy of helping to keep Oklahoma women alive and well. 

Flower2bhnsmall





Breast Health Network Partnership