CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) — One evening this past May, Casey Martin sat on her couch, watching television and enjoying some cookies and milk as a late-night snack.
As she finished, she brushed crumbs off her blouse, and as she did so, she discovered a lump on her breasts. Having gone through surgery to have endometrial cancer removed last fall, she immediately became concerned and contacted her doctor.
She visited The Breast Center in Carbondale, a branch of Southern Illinois Healthcare and met Dr. Cynthia Aks. She underwent a series of tests, and they worked through the issues and determined the best course of action.
"She sat with me — we sat for a good hour — and she made sure I understood all the ways we could attack this," Martin said. "I had no idea what kind of great team we had here. They give you the confidence to feel you're in the best hands and to think the best is possible."
Within six weeks of first detecting her breast cancer, Martin was undergoing surgery. She began chemotherapy in August and will complete those procedures soon. She will then begin receiving radiation treatments for six to seven weeks.
Martin said she's reacted fairly well to the treatments, and she remains upbeat and positive. She hopes she can be an inspiration to other women, and she wants them to know it's okay to occasionally feel down but to remember in the end that everything will be okay.
"It doesn't have to be scary. Just keep your humor and stay as upbeat as you can," she said. "It isn't as if I haven't had a few pity parties and all-out cries along the way," she said. "But then you stop and think, 'Where is this getting me? Nowhere.'"
But Martin's journey isn't over. Through the process of testing and screening, she tested positive for carrying the BRCA2 gene mutation, which makes the carrier more susceptible to breast and other forms of cancer. Women who have inherited the mutation are five times more likely to contract breast cancer than those who haven't, according to the American Cancer Society.
When Aks joined the Breast Center, she brought genetic testing for BRCA mutations to the forefront of people's minds. The center offers a comprehensive program to help people determine their risk level. Now, a new service even allows for genetic consultation to be done at patients' homes, whereas they would have to travel to St. Louis or further in the past.
"Most of them couldn't do it or just didn't want to," Aks said.
Indicators of a BRCA gene mutation can include a family lineage with a history of breast cancer, developing multiple cancers in one individual and contracting breast cancer under the age of 50. Since the opening of the High Risk Breast Clinic at the Breast Center a few months ago, local residents have more of an outlet to learn about these factors and to have testing and consultations.
Aks said she'd like to see other similar programs launch locally focused on other specific cancers like melanoma and colon cancer.
"This is kind of like a springboard," she said.
And for patients like Martin, the resources, companionship and education offered by the Breast Center and Aks and her staff have proven invaluable and helped to not only make the experience better but also to fill Martin with optimism and positivity. While several relatives have lost their battle with breast cancer, including her grandmother who died in her mid-70s, the 59-year-old isn't letting that affect her mindset.
"I'm heading for 90; that's where I'm going," she said.