By CALEB SLINKARD
One of Sharon Sanders’ roles at Hunt Regional Healthcare is to promote the hospital’s mobile mammography coach, a program designed to increase the number of mammograms performed in Hunt County each year and raise awareness of the importance of yearly screenings.
Sharon not only talks the talk: she won her own battle with breast cancer a few years ago, thanks to annual mammograms she receives at Hunt Regional Medical Center.
Dr. Steven Clifford, a radiologist at the Woman’s Imaging Center at Hunt Regional diagnosed Sharon in 2011.
“I was one of his first diagnoses,” she said. “And, consequently, I think of him as my hero, too, because he took a lot of time with me and he didn’t mince any words. He just said “‘we’re going to have a cancer diagnosis here: I know it.’ He also did the sonogram here.”
That didn’t mean that Sharon didn’t take the news without some frustration.
“I was so mad,” she said. “I thought: ‘I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do.”
But Sharon’s anger quickly turned to resolve, the result of the wealth of information regarding breast cancer treatment she had from working at Hunt Regional, her relationship with the hospital staff and her mother’s example set decades before.
“My mother lost her eye to cancer when I was a senior in high school,” Sharon said. “Her motto was ‘get up and go on.’ She didn’t let it affect her.”
Because of her relationship with Texas Oncology physicians Dr. James Petrikas and Dr. Meera Shreedhara, Sharon went to them for advice.
“I’d worked with them during my employer relations work and I’d seen their compassion and how much they love our community and want what’s best for it,” she said. “They gave me a lot of options, and they spoke highly of Dr. Josh Trussell here. They said his results were as good as any of the big boys [in downtown Dallas], that he was young, energetic and top of the line. I met with him and was really overwhelmed with his kindness and compassion.”
Sharon also had access to a new test, the Oncotype test, to help determine what kind of treatment she needed. She had surgery and then underwent 33 radiation treatments at the hospital and is now cancer free. Being able to undergo treatment in Greenville instead of having to drive to Dallas was a real blessing, she said.
“I was very lucky,” she said. “I had choices because I was diagnosed early.”
Two Cure-Couture gowns are provided to breast cancer patients at Hunt Regional Medical Center through funds raised by Bras for the Cause. Janeen Cunningham, owner of the Calico Cat in downtown Greenville, met Cure-Couture designers Linsay Alvarado and Ashley Segal while shopping for her store and was instrumental in presenting the idea to the hospital foundation. The idea and design is based on late fashion designer Linda Segal, Ashley’s mother and Linsay’s boss. Linda designed the gown after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2007.
The gowns are made from a variety of fabrics and feature unique patterns and prints, as well as Velcro flaps that help patients retain as much privacy as possible.
“It’s very modest, and you still feel very feminine in it,” Sharon said. “It takes a doctor’s referral to receive the gowns, and they are provided to the women at no cost to them. You can wear this to treatment and then go right out to the grocery store. They are so wonderful."
Sharon’s education, experience and faith helped her overcome her cancer, as well as strong people in her present and past.
“My husband never flinched,” she said. “Both of us have been hospice volunteers, so he knew exactly what the diagnosis could have meant. He was with me every bit of the way. I have heroes in the background, strong people in my past that taught me to go forward and control as much as I can. And, I also have deep, deep faith.”
Sharon has an opportunity to share her experience and the importance of mammograms and early detection throughout Hunt County.
“I don’t believe the Lord gave me breast cancer, but I know that if someone had to have it, it might as well be me,” she said. “I’m out there marketing, and I have the ability to influence a lot of people in this community. I have the resources of the mobile mammography coach to take out to women.”