In the 30 years that Monica Kealey has been a cosmetologist, she has supported a number of clients through bouts with cancer, whether lending a sympathetic ear or shaving their hair to give them more control over the hair loss that may accompany chemotherapy treatment.
She knows cancer can be a formidable opponent, so she’s been faithful to her No. 1 strategy to be her own best health care advocate: Routine screenings.
“Early detection is so important,” said the 53-year-old West Side resident, who has been going to the TMC for Women Breast Screening Center for annual mammograms for the past six years. “Like any other kind of health issue, your best chance of treatment is when you find something early.”
Monica, who is self-employed, found the clinic six years ago at a time she couldn’t afford to purchase insurance, but made too much to qualify for financial assistance programs. The TMC Breast Health and Education Program provides free screenings – 316 in 2013 – for uninsured women by using grant funding from the TMC Foundation and other community partners.
Even though Monica has since become insured, she stayed on at the clinic and received a call back from her April 2014 mammogram, asking for additional imaging after staff noticed a change from previous screenings. After more imaging, the doctor suggested a biopsy to rule out or confirm early signs of cancer.
The biopsy was painless and quick, with staff bringing her a warm blanket and keeping her adult daughter, waiting in the lobby, apprised of how the procedure was going. “It’s such a great team in there,” Kealey said. “I just felt very cared for – you don’t feel like you’re part of a cattle call. It’s very welcoming, but it’s also very efficient at the same time. You’re in, you’re out.”
Karen Narum, the women’s health care nurse practitioner who serves as a navigator at the Clinic, said she and her staff follow a simple rule: “We know the patients and their families are scared and anxious, so we treat them the way we would want to be treated.”
The staff called to check in on how she was holding up while waiting for an answer back on the biopsy, but Monica is a positive woman. “I know some people freak out when they hear the word ‘cancer,’ but I stayed positive and prepared myself that if I did have it, it would be something I’d have to deal with. But I think it’s really important to stay positive from the beginning and then, when you have the actual results, you move forward with a plan.”
Monica had a complex sclerosing lesion known as a radial scar. She was advised that it should be removed to prevent a possible malignancy from forming over time. Kealey did her research, wrote down a number of questions for the doctor, and was comfortable with the answers back. The surgery was over in 25 minutes and Kealey credits the surgeon, Dr. Kelly Favre, with such fine incisions that her healing was rapid. She missed just two days of work.
“I’m so thankful for the awesome team at the TMC Breast Center. They are a hidden treasure in Tucson,” Monica said, adding she shares the need for early detection when she can. “I have people in my chair tell me they’re in their 60s and they’ve never had a mammogram!” she said, noting their biggest concern is they think it will be painful. “Everybody is different, and sure, it might be a little tender, but the way I look at it, it’s over in just a few minutes and it could save your life.”
Although Monica now shares her experience, she kept it to herself initially. “I didn’t tell very many people about what I was going through because I didn’t want to hear horror stories about what happened to others. I knew I was going to have my own story – and I feel very fortunate.”
Making HerStory – Whether a woman is having her first child or a life-saving surgery, she deserves a welcoming and safe environment with state-of-the-art services and a caring touch. Making HerStory is the campaign for the new Joel M. Childers, M.D., Women’s Center to make this environment a reality at TMC for Women and in our community.
TMC is committed to providing a lifetime of care For Women, About Women. Join us in Making HerStory