ELKO — The day Lori Gilbert was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was reporting on a political event for KENV News 10 and the Elko Broadcasting Company.
In 2010, she was at the Stockmen’s Hotel & Casino, where former Republican Governor Jim Gibbons was scheduled to speak to his constituents.
“ ... And then my phone rang and I looked down (at it) and saw the call was from the lab in Reno,” Gilbert recalled vividly. “I just sensed it was bad news.”
Gilbert had recently undergone a stereotactic biopsy, an examination of breast tissue for signs of cancer.
“I went outside — with my notebook— and took the call,” Gilbert said. “I started to write down the things (the doctor) was saying, but I couldn’t see. My eyes were full of tears and my knees were buckling.”
After scribbling down the return number, Gilbert immediately called her husband, councilman and chief development officer for Great Basin College John Patrick Rice.
She asked Rice to call the doctor back for her, because “I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying, I was too scared.”
Gilbert was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, a non-invasive breast cancer that forms inside the milk ducts.
DCIS isn’t life-threatening, but those who have it are at a higher risk of developing an invasive cancer later on, according to www.breastcancer.org.
“They found two (cancerous) sites in the left breast,” Gilbert said. “And even though the right side wasn’t involved (yet), it would be.”
Gilbert had two options: have a lumpectomy (a breast-conserving surgery that removes just the cancerous areas) or a double mastectomy.
Ultimately, Gilbert chose to have both breasts removed at the LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City.
“That wasn’t really a traumatic decision for me, because I wasn’t that emotionally attached to (my breasts),” Gilbert said. “To me, it was no different than if you get tonsillitis or have to get your appendix out.
“ ... My mentality was, ‘it’s just breast tissue, it’s going to make me sick, and I have to get rid of it.’”
Without a double mastectomy, there was a chance the cancer would return. Chances of DCIS recurring range from 25 to 30 percent, five to 10 years after the initial diagnosis, according to www.breastcancer.org.
Those were chances Gilbert refused to take.
“All I could think about was if I don’t do the surgery, the breast cancer will come back — most likely by the time (my daughter) graduates high school,” Gilbert said. “I just couldn’t bear the thought of doing that.”
Gilbert has no regrets about the surgery, she said, because she no longer fears that the breast cancer may one day return.
“A lot of my decisions ... had to do with being a mom and being there for my daughter,” she said.
Support and Sensitivity
Gratitude is something most cancer survivors have in common, Gilbert said.
People find comfort in family, friends, compassionate medical practitioners and community efforts, she said.
“I remember when I came back after my surgery and anchored the news for Channel 10, the girls golf team — for whatever reason — came out wearing pink ribbons in their hair for their gold match and it just — ,” Gilbert paused, briefly stifling back tears — “I just really appreciated their support and their love. Those kind of things mean a lot, just knowing there are people there for you.
“I cannot express deeply enough my appreciation for all the well wishes, small kindnesses, prayers and love expressed during my surgery and recovery. I want to ... thank the women who endured before me. These women lent me the strength and courage, and extended seeds of hope that grew into a beautiful bouquet of love and healing.”
Support means everything to women with breast cancer, Gilbert said.
In cases like Gilbert’s, where women must choose between a lumpectomy or mastectomy, it’s often difficult to make a decision, she said.
“It takes courage to undergo testing, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation,” she said. “The women I met made difficult choices often because they did not want to leave their children and spouses behind.”
For women with breast cancer, the decision to undergo a mastectomy can be a sensitive issue, Gilbert said.
And while breast cancer awareness groups support a good cause, provoking slogans — like The Keep a Breast Foundation’s “I love boobies” campaign — can make some women even more self conscious about their bodies.
“Please be thoughtful when describing and discussing breast cancer,” Gilbert said. “Some women are very sensitive when breasts are objectified. Words like ‘boobs’ or ‘ta-tas’ can actually heighten feelings of insecurity for women facing the prospect of breasts being surgically altered or removed.
“ ... Women and girls need to know they are much more than the sum of their body parts.”
Gilbert only discovered she had DCIS after a mammogram, which she regularly received at Elko Diagnostic Imaging.
“I’m really the poster girl for early detection,” Gilbert said. “I urge people to get those mammograms and not to be afraid of the results, because if you get them regularly and something does come up, they can deal with that.”
She also advocated for political pressure to ensure everyone has access to the best health care available.
“If you have breast cancer, you need to be afforded every opportunity to deal with that,” she said. “These are the kind of things we need to hold our elected officials responsible for.
“ ... (and) don’t let an insurance company tell you when you should have a mammogram. Trust your medical provider. Go to people that care about you and don’t just look at your insurance card. Advocate for access (for those procedures).”