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PATIENTS & FAMILIES

  • Pam Schmid, North Carolina

    Pam Schmid knows a thing or two about breast cancer. Actually, more like 101 things. Based on her experience with breast cancer, Pam’s soon-to-be published book, “101 Things You Should Know About Breast Cancer,” is written for the friends and family of breast cancer patients, aimed at helping them better understand and support the people in their lives who are dealing with breast cancer.

    Not only an author, but also an advocate, Pam is an ardent proponent of regular breast cancer screening. Specifically, she is committed to making sure women still receive annual mammograms starting at age 40, despite last year’s controversial recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) that only women 50-74 should receive mammograms – and only every other year. As a major focus of her advocacy, Pam participates in the Mammography Saves Lives campaign, which reminds women to “Start @ 40” because one in five breast cancers occur in women aged 40-49.

    In addition to urging regular mammograms, Pam also pushes for more screening options – like breast MRI and ultrasound – which are sometimes recommended for women with dense breasts because tumors (like hers) are difficult to distinguish from normal breast tissue on regular mammograms. According to a 2008 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, about half of women under 50 have dense breasts and a third of women over 50 do. But unfortunately, few know it.

    Pam knows these statistics all too well. A 46 year-old health and fitness professional who “never thought cancer could happen to me,” was stunned when an annual mammogram showed a calcification that her doctor wanted to monitor. In the following six months, Pam did her research. She knew to ask her doctor about breast density and together they decided her diagnostic mammogram should be accompanied by an ultrasound. That ultrasound showed a tumor. An MRI showed three more tumors. Today, six years after receiving a mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy to successfully treat her cancer, Pam relies on annual digital mammograms and breast MRI to monitor changes.

    “It’s troubling that the USPSTF – whose recommendations often influence Medicare and private health insurance coverage decisions – would recommend against mammograms for women under 50 when what we really need is mammograms PLUS more screening options for women with dense breasts. These women are usually under 50,” said Pam. “We’re moving in the completely wrong direction here and I’m concerned that women have been left confused about the value of getting an annual mammogram starting at 40.”

    Today, Pam is doing all she can to lessen that confusion. As a certified health and wellness coach and speaker, Pam helps women address many of the factors that may contribute to breast cancer or relapse, including weight loss, through her program Healthy and Fit After Cancer®. One of her other important initiatives is www.KnowYourDensity.com, a website that encourages women to partner with their physician to understand their breast density and what scan is most appropriate for them.

    “I have learned that most women know about pink ribbons and raising money for breast cancer, but they don’t know a lot about their own risk, early detection, or other important information that could save their lives,” says Pam in her upcoming book. “Women need to be their own best advocate and partner with their physician to be sure they get the right scan at the right time.”

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