When it comes to breast cancer, more than 330,000 women will be diagnosed with it this year. Many people put off important cancer screenings in 2020 because of COVID-19, including Cathy Teahan.
Cathy, who lives in Broken Arrow, is a retired educator with Tulsa Tech. She keeps busy with her seven grandkids, many of whom live in Oklahoma, but she still makes it a priority to get a mammogram on a yearly basis. "I come in every year. I've been doing that for 23 years," Cathy said.
But like many women, Cathy put off her breast cancer screening in 2020 because of COVID-19, citing concerns about potentially catching the virus in a hospital setting. She got a notice from Chapman Breast Center at Hillcrest Medical Center a few days after her screening was supposed to happen, saying she was due for a one. "I thought, Well, it's a pandemic. I really don't want to go, I'm fine."
Two weeks later, she got a second notice. This one ensured her she would be safe with the protocols Hillcrest had in place. "It was almost a month later I ended up coming in, and thankfully I did."
Doctors diagnosed Cathy with ductal carcinoma, or stage 0 breast cancer, in January 2021. In March 2020, Governor Kevin Stitt issued an executive order which suspended elective surgeries and minor medical procedures, including mammograms, until April 24. When that expired, Hillcrest Healthcare System chose to extend that suspension for another two months to make sure patients remained safe.
Doctor Tara Wilson of Hillcrest's Utica Park Clinic is Cathy's doctor. She said because of that, screenings took a dip at the start of the pandemic. "Within our system, we definitely saw a decrease that was not at the fault of any patient, but because of a system that was trying to figure things out," said Dr. Wilson.
Doctor Wilson also said the Tulsa metro ended 2020 with a normal number of screenings as more people started to come back after a period of hesitancy which she said lasted three months. But at Hillcrest's rural hospitals, like Claremore and Henryetta, screenings were below normal, and that concerns her.
Now, halfway through 2021, Doctor Wilson said they are seeing fewer women diagnosed with breast cancer at rural hospitals. "My fear is that that's due to a lack of women being screened and not due to lack of disease."
That's why she, and Cathy, are encouraging women to get screened. "Please don't wait. Please don't wait," said the latter.
Cathy chose to get a double mastectomy soon after her diagnosis. She's currently going through reconstructive surgery.