Like many women, West Des Moines' Courtney Bell, 35, didn't perform the recommended monthly self-exams on her breasts. But on a Saturday morning in October 2013, something told her she should.
“I was changing the batteries in my smoke detectors and thought, 'What else should I be doing?'” she says. She headed to her bedroom, stood in front of the mirror, and checked her breasts.
She felt a grape-like lump in her right breast. “I checked my breasts just often enough to know it shouldn't have been there,” she says. She immediately made an appointment with Melissa Thompson, M.D., a Family Medicine physician with The Iowa Clinic.
Within days of that call, Bell saw Dr. Thompson, had her first mammogram, and had the mass biopsied.
Hearing the C-word
On October 29, the morning after the biopsy, Dr. Thompson called with the results and asked her to come to the office right away. Bell called her sister and began walking the short distance between her office and The Iowa Clinic. By the time she arrived, her entire family was waiting.
They joined her as Dr. Thompson explained the results. They walked down the hall with her to meet with one of The Iowa Clinic's general surgeons, who discussed the treatment options with her. And they supported her decision to have a bilateral mastectomy followed by breast reconstructive surgery: “I didn't see any reason to spend the rest of my life waiting to see if I'd get (cancer) on my other side,” Bell says.
Bell's surgery was November 11. Scott Hamling, M.D., a General Surgeon, performed the bilateral mastectomy and Konstantinos Lekkas, M.D., a Plastic Surgeon, followed to begin the breast reconstruction process.
Never having to worry about next steps
“The Iowa Clinic is just really, really efficient,” Bell says. “I never once had to figure out who to call or where to be; they did it all for me. They were all in touch with each other – the right hand knew what the left hand was doing.”
Bell's treatment included four months of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation therapy. Dr. Lekkas completed her reconstructive surgery in August 2014.
“Everything actually went very smoothly. You go and you get through it and you make the best of it,” Bell says.
Getting back to normal
Bell had an additional revision surgery in 2016 to help the appearance of the reconstruction. Because her treatment consisted of radiation on one side, getting a symmetrical reconstruction is more difficult. She continues to work with Dr. Lekkas, who was both part of the original mastectomy team and performed her original reconstruction – to create the aesthetic she is looking for.
Most important today; she religiously performs routine self-exams of the remaining tissue.
Bell urges every woman to follow suit: “Knowing how your breasts feel when they're healthy will help you know for certain when they're not.”
Perform breast self-exams at least once a month
If you notice any changes, or it's time for your annual mammogram, contact your primary care provider.
The Iowa Clinic Women's Center offers personalized, comprehensive and coordinated care for women of all ages. The Iowa Clinic offers convenient locations across the metro and 3D Mammography in both our downtown and West Des Moines Campus locations.
To make an appointment call 515-875-9500.