Breast cancer survivor: Listen to your body

A family history of breast cancer led Laura Marschall to be diligent about seeing her doctor for annual exams. She began receiving screening mammograms at the age of 35. Several years later, her physician found a lump in one of her breasts during her annual exam.

A diagnostic mammogram indicated that the mass did not appear to be malignant, so her physician recommended that Marschall keep an eye on it for the time being. Marschall walked away from that appointment feeling very unsettled.

“I was very nervous after that. I didn’t feel relieved at all. I could clearly feel it, and I felt that lump every day for six months. When I noticed that it had changed, I went straight to a breast surgeon.”

A biopsy revealed that Marschall, 39, had an aggressive form of breast cancer that was determined to be at Stage Two.

“I was terrified,” recalls Marschall. “There were a lot of big ugly cries after that.”

Breast cancer is often a silent disease, with virtually no symptoms, but it is often completely curable if diagnosed in its early stages. In 1980, the national five-year survival rate for women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer was about 74 percent; today that number is 99 percent. There are currently more than 3.1 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

According to the New Jersey Department of Health, breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among New Jersey women and the second leading cause of death, after lung cancer, attributed to cancer in the state. In 2013, more than 7,500 New Jersey women were diagnosed with breast cancer.

The rate at which new cases of breast cancer are being diagnosed in Sussex County, as well as in the rest of the state, is stable, according to the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control. The county’s breast cancer death rate is also falling, in accordance with state and national trends. However, the disease contributes to the death of 1,300 New Jersey women annually. Access to breast cancer screenings and optimal treatments is an urgent public health issue.

A full-time employee in the research & development division of a pharmaceutical company,…