According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer at some point during their lifetime. Nearly everyone is impacted by breast cancer in some way, and that includes us here at Community Care Physicians. Courtney Warzek, MRI/CT technologist at ImageCare Medical Imaging, was that 1 in 8. Courtney was only 30 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. We asked Courtney if she would be willing to share her remarkable story as a breast cancer survivor.
"Of course," Courtney replied. "If sharing my story reminds one person to do a self exam, it is worth it."
Since her experience, Courtney has become a supporter of other breast cancer survivors, and a voice of advocacy to remind young women to get themselves checked for breast cancer as well. Here is Courtney's story:
"My story starts on April 23rd, 2009. I was taking a shower after coming home from the gym when I noticed a fairly large lump in my right breast. Tons of things ran through my mind. Is this a cyst? Could it be a tumor? Due to my occupation in the medical field and knowing the things I know, I was really concerned about the size and shape. Because of my age and my family history it couldn’t be breast cancer, right?? So, what next? Do I wait and see if this “mass” goes away? Maybe it’s just a cyst and is inflamed from my menstrual cycle. I waited until Monday morning when I called my primary care doctor’s office and made an appointment. Fortunately, I work in the same building so I was able to go that day on my lunch break. I saw the nurse practitioner who I wave to most mornings. When she felt the lump, I was looking at her and she looked, oh so subtly, frightened. I was really hoping to leave that appointment with her saying, “It’s probably just a cyst, but we’ll just check it to be sure.” While she didn’t say anything to scare me, I just wasn’t hearing what I wanted. So once again, I made another appointment to have a mammogram and a breast ultrasound for the following Thursday. At this point, I didn’t know what to think. Am I over reacting? When I thought back to my lifestyle, age and family history, I actually almost cancelled my appointment because I did not want to miss work. Thank God I didn’t! So on April 30th, 26 days after turning 30, I had someone looking at me and telling me I had breast cancer!! I must say, words can’t explain how I felt. I did know one thing – I felt that I was in this position for a reason and I was going to survive to share my story. Hopefully my story can save some lives. I’ve never had a true passion for anything prior to being diagnosed with breast cancer. Sure, there are plenty of things I like to do and causes that I support – however, nothing gave me the feeling that this is my purpose. As much as I would have preferred to continue to be a healthy 30-year-old woman, I truly have found my passion!!"
Courtney had her mammogram and all of her medical imaging done at ImageCare. They discovered that she had three tumors, two masses on her right breast that measured 4 cm, and a mass the size of a golf ball under her right armpit. The cancer had also spread to her lymph nodes. She was diagnosed with a breast cancer bordering on stage 3 and stage 4 breast cancer.
Courtney stated that her care team at ImageCare "recommended the best doctors" for all of her treatments. She had to receive chemotherapy as well as a double mastectomy followed by radiation therapy. 8 years after treatment, Courtney is still cancer free.
Instead of letting her experience get her down, Courtney uses it as a source of inspiration every single day. She enjoys sharing her story as a breast cancer survivor and talking to young women about the importance of self checks. Working as an MRI/CT technologist at ImageCare, Courtney gets to meet a lot of new people every day. Whether working at ImageCare or at her part-time job as a bartender, Courtney gets the opportunity to touch a lot of lives.
Courtney said her experience helped to bring her and her coworkers closer together. When Courtney got sick, all of her coworkers chipped in and donated money to help her with her medical bills. After her treatment was over, her coworkers at ImageCare decided to continue to help each other out. They started their own charity they call "Friends in Need." Several times throughout the year, they have fundraisers and put the money into a collection so it's there for the next time one of them needs it. With employees from all six ImageCare locations helping raise money fot the charity, they are able to make a big impact for each other when they need it most. Just as they did when she received her diagnosis, Courtney and her coworkers continue to love and support one another.
"It really does feel like a family," Courtney says of working at ImageCare.