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Getting back on track

Nurse who had breast cancer twice has clear message

“I tell them from experience, don’t get behind on your stuff.”

 

You have to know Phyllis Kamacho’s own unusual story to appreciate her entreaties on breast exams.

Phyllis, a nurse at the MNPS Health Care Centers’ Madison location, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996. She was in her thirties — younger than the age the American Cancer Society and other health associations recommend starting mammograms.

Twenty-five years later, her cancer reappeared. Treatment was extensive both times. Now, Phyllis gets right to the point with her own patients.

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Phyllis Kamacho

MNPS Health Care Center nurse

“‘Can we schedule you a mammogram today?’ That’s how I put it,” she says. “If I can help one person get one, it’s all worth it.”

Back in 1996, during a breast self-exam, Phyllis noticed a lump. She thought it was likely fibrocystic breast tissue changes; these common, nonthreatening changes often appear just before a menstrual cycle and can cause tenderness. But she wisely had it checked out, and a biopsy revealed cancer. She had two lumpectomies and 32 radiation treatments.

  

Her more recent diagnosis was in October 2021. A tumor began growing out of the scar tissue from her earlier treatment. In June 2022, she had a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction in a single surgery.

Phyllis’ cancer was an aggressive form involving protein receptors in the breast tissue. It’s an odd bad news-good news diagnosis.

“It’s not real common,” explains Phyllis. “HER2 breast cancer tends to grow faster, spread and recur. But it also responds better to breast cancer treatments that specifically target it. There’s good treatment for it.”

Her final reconstruction surgery was last November, followed by six months of chemotherapy.

Phyllis is now back to full form and using her personal experience to help others.

 

“People under 40, please do a self-exam,” she says.

 

And for those 40 and older, Phyllis emphasizes the all-important annual mammogram. She pushes, even though she understands why some patients avoid it. They think, “‘Cancer happens to everybody else; it doesn’t happen to me.’

 

“Denial is a biggie,” she says. “I might have had a little bit of that.”

 

But that’s no reason to soften her message.

 

“I tell them from experience, don’t get behind on your stuff.”

 

Many people put off regular screenings during the pandemic, but these days Phyllis sees a positive trend among her patients.

 

“They’re trying to get back on track,” she says.

 

She tells women of all ages to get to know their breast tissue through self-exams so they can recognize important changes, emphasizing, “You’ve got to know what your normal breast tissue looks like. Any suspicious knots, lumps or tissue changes, see your doctor.”

Due for a mammogram?

Click below to schedule yours with Vanderbilt Health.

Due for a well-woman exam?

Call 615-259-8755 or schedule below with the MNPS Health Care Centers.

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