Think Pink: Annual mammogram catches cancer early, saves life

By: Hannah Blick
October 26, 2013
photo - Kateri Amrhein
Kateri Amrhein 

Some might call Kateri Amrhein lucky, but she knows better. At 58 years old, she is a breast cancer survivor and a bold woman of faith.

“I prayed for the strength to deal with the cancer, and it came,” she said. “I’ve seen so many of my prayers answered.”

Amrhein has experience and education from working in the medical field, so for 30 years, she was disciplined with her yearly mammograms. She also knew her family history: eleven relatives have died from various types of cancer, including her father.

“It was always more a question not of ‘If?’ but ‘When?’” she said. “I’ve been aware and diligent.”

But in October 2012, Amrhein let her yearly mammogram appointment slip by without going in for a checkup. She was busy – there were errands to run and meals to prepare, and besides, she felt healthy. When she finally went in for a mammogram in January 2013, she knew something was wrong after the fifth breast image. She was diagnosed on February 1, with Ductal Carcinoma in Situ (DCIS), considered the earliest form of breast cancer.

“Both my doctors said I was the poster child for having a yearly mammogram,” she said. “We definitely caught it early. If I would have waited much longer, it could have metastasized.”

The surgeon scheduled a mastectomy for February 13, so Amrhein had 12 days to think and pray. During that time, she wrestled with whether she should have a breast implant, and felt confused and unsure, until a moment of distinct certainty.

“The day before my surgery, I just woke up with peaceful clarity,” she said. “It was just so clear in my head what I needed to do, and I wasn’t going to second guess myself.”

Amrhein opted not to receive an implant for her left breast, and said it’s a trail she had to blaze for herself. She said she sees implants as a great option for many women who have lost their breasts, but she wasn’t physically or emotionally ready to go through the surgeries required to receive an implant. And she has never looked back.

“My breast doesn’t define me, I’m a sum of many parts,” she said. “It’s been almost liberating.

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