By Holly Henry Ottumwa Courier Correspondent
OTTUMWA — Because her sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40, Keitha Cutsforth of Ottumwa started having mammograms at age 35.
It was a decision that paid off. At 38, a mammogram detected a 1.7 centimeter lump in her breast. She was diagnosed with stage-one breast cancer. That was in 2008 and, with three small children to raise Keitha chose an aggressive route to treat her cancer.
“Looking back I think I just wanted it over with and I never wanted to worry about it again so I had a bi-lateral mastectomy and chemo,” she said. “I might not have chosen this option today, but then it just seemed like the right thing to do for me and my family.”
Keitha also had the advantage of knowing what she was in for. As a nurse at Ottumwa Regional Health Center she had witnessed plenty of patients go through surgery and treatment. She also had the advantage of knowing whose hands she would be in when she went in for surgery.
“I trusted the doctors because I worked with them every day,” she said. “I wasn’t really scared at all. It was just a process. I was so trustworthy. I think it was also easier for me because I had watched my sister go through it and I used my nursing knowledge to prepare myself.”
Today she uses that same knowledge and first-hand experience to help her patients through similar surgeries and treatment. “I share my personal experience with my patients and I’ve had other nurses refer patients to me because they know I have been through breast cancer. I can tell them I know exactly how they are feeling and really mean it. It has certainly made me a better nurse.”
She also tells her story to women who haven’t been diagnosed. “Having your mammogram is really important,” she said. “If you have a history in your family, start early even if you have to pay for it yourself. I was so shocked when my sister was diagnosed because she is healthy and eats right, exercises and doesn’t smoke. I figured if it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone including me. Thankfully I acted on this and started screening early. Had I waited until 40 there would probably be a different end to this story.”