Early detection is vital, cancer survivor says

  • Megan Broome/The Clayton Tribune. Elizabeth Harper is now cancer free after being diagnosed in December 2018. She said that it was detected in its early stages and strongly encourages women to get routine mammograms.
    Megan Broome/The Clayton Tribune. Elizabeth Harper is now cancer free after being diagnosed in December 2018. She said that it was detected in its early stages and strongly encourages women to get routine mammograms.

Just because you can’t see or feel something, doesn’t mean it’s not there and Elizabeth Harper learned this first-hand when she was diagnosed with breast cancer last December at age 59.

“When they found my cancer, it was very small and in the beginning stages,” Harper said.

Harper said that she was due to have a mammogram in October 2018 but decided to wait until December because she had plans to visit Greenville (S.C.) anyway, and that’s where her doctor was.

After identifying the cancer from a mammogram, doctors performed a CAT scan and MRI to confirm the diagnosis.

“I already knew in my heart of hearts that I had it,” Harper said about how she felt when given

the diagnosis. She said there is no other way to explain how she felt that day.

Harper said that the specific cancer was estrogen-fed, or Estrogen Receptor (ER) positive.

This means that the cells of this type of breast cancer have receptors that allow them to use the hormone estrogen to grow, according to the Mayo Clinic’s website.

The cancer was self-contained in one area of the breast, according to her doctors.

Harper said that she had surgery in March 2019 to remove a tumor and lymph nodes. She said that some healthy tissue surrounding the cancer had to be removed as well to prevent it from coming back.

Doctors were able to remove all of the cancer and Harper completed six weeks of radiation as an extra precaution to make sure it was gone.

“It’s painless,” Harper said about the radiation treatments.

She said that fatigue was the only side effect from the radiation.

“I was very fortunate there,” Harper said.

Having no history of breast cancer in her family, Harper said that early detection was the key to finding the cancer in the early stages and having it successfully removed.

“This cancer was not detected by a physical exam,” Harper said. “I could not feel this. The doctor could not feel it.”

She said that women are advised to do self-checks for signs of lumps indicating the potential for cancer, but that she didn’t notice anything herself and when she went to the doctor prior to the mammogram nothing was out of the ordinary.

“There was no indicator at all that there was anything wrong,” Harper said.

She said that because the cancer was in the beginning stages, if she had gotten a mammogram in October like she was scheduled to doctors probably would not have seen it and she would’ve had to go another year before being diagnosed.  

Harper said that she wants to stress to all women the importance of getting a mammogram in addition to physical exams.

“Just because you can’t feel something doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Harper said.

Harper said that often women will wait to get treatment for their diagnosis because they believe that it might go away, but that it is not a good idea and early detection through a mammogram is key.

While being diagnosed and going through her treatment, Harper found a support system among her friends and family and strength through her Christian faith.

“I pray and I talk to the Lord a lot,” Harper said.  “It’s my faith and that’s what got me through, my faith in God.”

Having been diagnosed just a few years after her husband passed away, she said that it was difficult for her children and she questioned why this happened to her.

“It seemed like a lot to handle in a short period of time,” Harper said.

But her faith held strong and she found relief in the Lord.

“He’s a comfort to me,” Harper said.  “I knew that I was going to be with the Lord someday.”

Harper is now cancer free and said that doctors told her that the chances are very little that her breast cancer will return.

She said that she has to take a medicine that prevents estrogen from developing in her body so that form of cancer does not come back.

Currently, she has to get checked for cancer every three months, but it will move to every six months and then eventually she will only have to get checked once a year again.

“If I’m still doing well,” Harper said.

Harper said that doctors also performed testing and determined that the specific cancer was not genetic, so it wouldn’t have been passed on to her children through genes.

“They went a step above and beyond to make sure the cancer wouldn’t come back,” Harper said about her doctors.

She said that she has mild pain but otherwise feels fine and continues to use her faith as an anchor as she continues her days ahead cancer-free.