ANNISTON, AL (October 15, 2017) — As a registered licensed Physical Therapy Assistant (LPTA) and certified Lymphedema Therapist in the rehab department at RMC in Anniston, Winter Triplett works every day with breast cancer patients who have experienced radical mastectomies and the many life-altering effects of breast cancer surgery. But, in January of this year, after a mammogram at age 38, Winter discovered what it was like to be on the receiving end of that important patient care following her own double mastectomy and breast cancer diagnosis.
Winter sought medical advice from the physicians at RMC after experiencing the symptoms of mastitis – an infection that generally affects the milk ducts in a woman’s breasts while nursing. But considering she had no children and was not breastfeeding, Naomi Wade, CRNP at RMC, recommended that she undergo a mammogram and ultrasound to uncover what was causing the infection-like symptoms and red streaking in one of her breasts.
As a healthcare professional, Winter was quick to think that doctors would prescribe antibiotics and she’d be on her way. It was not until she was seeing a patient when the doctors’ office called with her biopsy results – and responded affirmatively when she asked if her husband, Brian, should join her at the doctor’s office — did she fully understand the ramifications of what might be happening. In the months that followed, Winter underwent a double mastectomy in February followed by a series of procedures that included filling tissue expanders that were placed during her initial mastectomy surgery. Her second surgery in June was to finalize breast reconstruction and replace tissue expanders with implants.
But Winter is one of the lucky ones. Because she recognized that something wasn’t quite right and thoroughness of those treating her at RMC, she was encouraged to have a mammogram. It was through this simple test that revealed she had breast cancer. Thankfully for Winter, her cancer was caught early – at stage 0 – and had not spread through her lymphatic system. As a result, Winter did not require any subsequent radiation or chemotherapy treatment following the breast cancer removal surgery.
When asked what helped her transition from the position as a health care provider to a breast cancer patient, she is quick to point to her faith, her family and the support of her co-workers at RMC.
“I see patients every day who have undergone radiation, chemotherapy and radical mastectomies,” said Winter Tripplet. “These patients are survivors. They depend on me for lymphedema therapy and scar management in their new world of normal. If I can share an understanding smile and shed some positive light on their experiences because I’ve been through it myself, then it is an honor and privilege to do so.”
While Winter admits she did have a five minute or so ‘freak out’ moment of tears and anxiousness when calling her family and husband with the initial news, she also appreciates the fact that she felt stronger because of the support of her supervisor, Joan Hardy, and many co-workers, her husband, parents and in-laws.
“Never once did I feel alone during this entire experience,” she said. “It is so very important that patients are surrounded by loved ones who care about them during their treatment and recovery so their bodies can heal.”
One aspect that Winter said she wishes more education and support would center on following a breast cancer diagnosis is for more attention and resources directed to the spouses of breast cancer patients. Following a major surgery – like a mastectomy – patients are carefully ushered through the clinical journey of each next step that’s about to happen. But spouses are often left in shock and aren’t sure how to fully cope.
Winter and her husband, Brian, have been married for eight years in December. The couple came home to Oxford, AL two years ago following Brian’s stint in the military. Winter credits her family and coworkers as her ‘rock’ throughout her cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Having the support of Brian’s family as well as her own during this very recent struggle helped Winter feel much more appreciative of the little things people do for her and each other.
To those who are reading this article and not quite sure when they should start routine mammograms, Winter emphasizes the new guidelines for breast cancer screenings released by the American Cancer Society (ACS) in October 2015. According to ACS, these guidelines recommend that all women should begin having yearly mammograms at age 45 and can change to having mammograms every other year beginning at age 55.
However, as Winter shared, women should also listen to their bodies.
“If something doesn’t feel right or you’re experiencing symptoms that raises red flags, don’t be scared and don’t hesitate to see your doctor,” said Winter. “Don’t wait. Make time to get yourself checked. The earlier breast cancer is diagnosed, like mine, the higher the chances are for a full, happy, healthy recovery and long life ahead.”
RMC has multiple locations in Oxford and Anniston that provide a full range of Radiology, Mammography and Imaging Services for the convenience of the patients in our local communities, said Louis Bass, CEO of RMC Health System.
In April, Bass said, RMC expanded mammography screening services to RMC Oxford Mediplex that features new mammography capabilities. This innovative technology includes a full-field digital mammography (FFDM) unit with Tomosynthesis and C-view imaging that reduces patient radiation doses.