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Ogden Breast Cancer Survivor Urges Regular Screening

SOUTH OGDEN, Utah — Due to the pandemic, many organized group walks for Breast Cancer Awareness month have been canceled this year, but that hasn’t stopped those who are passionate about the cause from showing support. One Ogden couple is still finding ways to make strides against breast cancer.

Jeff Callister’s recent love for running is about more than just the sport. He’s competing in the 35-Mile Breast Cancer Challenge sponsored in Utah by the American Cancer Society and raising funds and awareness for thousands of women including his own wife, Lynda Callister.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly four years ago when she was 49 years old.

“Well, it’s shocking. I mean, you never want to hear (about) anybody being diagnosed with cancer, let alone someone that’s as close as a wife, a spouse,” Jeff Callister explained.

Between the two of them, they have 10 kids. At the time, the youngest was only 8. Jeff said his thoughts started racing.

“What happens if this cancer takes her? What about these kids? How am I going to go on without her, basically?” he said. “This little girl needs her mom and those thoughts are scary.”

Lynda had been going in for mammography screening every six months because doctors had found noncancerous masses in one of her breasts, which they removed.

“After I was cleared, with the mammogram and an ultrasound, I felt something that just didn’t seem normal,” Lynda described.

Although she had a normal mammogram just three months prior, she knew something was wrong and insisted on additional screening.

“Within a couple of weeks I ended up having a double mastectomy (and reconstruction surgery),” she said. “It was super hard.”

However, Lynda said it could have been worse if she hadn’t paid attention to her body and sought out a doctor at urgent care who agreed to perform additional screening despite her having been seen just three months earlier. Thanks to early intervention, Lynda avoided chemotherapy and radiation.

Lynda doesn’t know what would have happened if she would have delayed seeking treatment.

“As moms, as women, we get so busy and we like push things aside,” she said. “Had I not gone in when I did and (had) that doctor (not) have trusted my instinct at that time, I could have easily pushed it aside and I don’t know what the result would have been.”

Dr. Jennifer Tittensor, Intermountain Healthcare’s associate medical director for breast surgery, said mammography screening during the pandemic is critical.

“We need to go in and have screening just like we did before,” she explained.

Tittensor said for women like Lynda who find a lump or notice a change, screening should also include an ultrasound and doctor examination. While mammography screening is an excellent screening tool, she said it may not pick up everything if a woman has dense breasts or if there is a subtle change.

While most breast cancers grow fairly slowly, Tittensor said there are cases like Lynda’s when a lump can present just a couple of months after a mammogram if the spot was tiny during screening.

Back in March, there was a brief period when most hospital systems across the state stopped performing screening tests, but Tittensor said they’ve realized that like COVID-19, breast cancer is an ongoing issue that cannot be ignored. 

Tittensor said Intermountain Healthcare clinics are taking increased safety precautions like spacing out appointments to reduce the number of people in the waiting room, offering touchless sign-in tools, and wiping down surfaces in-between visits.

She said there is no reason to delay screening. “It’s important all year round and it really is a simple thing to do. It can be the difference between having a little blip in your life or having it being a major life-altering experience,” she said.

She also encourages women to perform a monthly self-breast exam. She said cancer is often identified when a patient feels something different. “You know yourself better than anybody. You’re the one that checks yourself routinely,” she said.

“Do not ignore it because we are more aware of ourselves than we sometimes give ourselves credit for,” Lynda said.

Tittensor said breast cancer is truly genetic in about 10% of women. While she said they don’t know exactly what makes up the other 90%, she said healthy living plays a role.

“There’s more and more data coming out to show that healthy lifestyle choices do reduce breast cancer risk and for women who’ve had breast cancer, it reduces the risk of recurrence,” she explained. “Very simple things like regular exercise, and eating more of a whole food plant-based diet, so more fruits and vegetables and less processed food, absolutely makes a difference.”

Lynda is also participating with her husband in the 35-Mile Breast Cancer Challenge, but she is biking the 35 miles. She enjoys getting outside and spending time in nature with her spouse.

Jeff finished the 35 miles at the beginning of the week and will continue to run this month in support of those who can’t run on their own.

“I couldn’t be prouder of him because he’s not afraid to stand with me and to just support me,” she said. “There’s going to be good days and there’s going to be bad days and he’s there, no matter if the days are good or bad, and I appreciate that so much.”

Even in her own time of need, Jeff said Lynda was always the one more worried about others than herself.

“She’s the counselor, she’s the caretaker. She’s the one that just takes anyone and everyone in to help,” he said.

Although women often wear many hats, Lynda is grateful she was paying attention to her own health.

“We can’t do good for others if we don’t help ourselves first,” she said.

“If we feel like there’s something not right, we need to do something about it,” Lynda added. “Advocate for yourself, because you’re important … and you’re needed.

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