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Two-time breast cancer survivor speaks at event

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Lillie Shockney predicts that within her granddaughter’s lifetime, breast cancer “will be a thing of the past,” much like smallpox, polio or measles – largely eliminated as a result of a preventative vaccine.

Shockney, the administrative director of the Johns Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Center, and a two-time breast cancer survivor, will be the keynote luncheon speaker at the Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation “22nd Celebration of Hope,” on April 14.

A registered nurse, published author and nationally recognized authority on the subject of breast cancer, Shockney will also talk about the use of humor to reduce stress during treatment, and share stories of how laughter helped during her own battles with the disease.

If you go
WHAT: “22nd Celebration of Hope” sponsored by the Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation
WHEN: April 14
WHERE: Embassy Suites Hotel and Spa, 1000 Woodward Place NE
HOW MUCH: Noon luncheon with speaker Lillie Shockney is $75; reservations required at 265-6343. Free breast cancer education seminars at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.; no reservations required. For information, go to nfhfoundation.org.

Of course, there’s nothing light-hearted about a breast cancer diagnosis, and 25 years ago the diagnosis was accompanied by a mortality rate of 30 percent to 40 percent.

“The standard of care was a full mastectomy because it had not yet been proven that a lumpectomy and mastectomy were equally effective for survival,” she explains during a recent phone conversation. “More surgery is not better, and 80 percent of women today are candidates for a lumpectomy.”

As a precaution, doctors in the past also regularly removed the skin of the breast, not realizing it could be left intact for later reconstructive surgery. They also had an arsenal of just five chemotherapy drugs, compared to more than 20 today.

“We have the ability to attack this disease in many more different ways than we used to, and the survival rate for all kinds of breast cancer (both men and women) is now 87 percent.”

With early detection, it rises to 95 percent, she says. And that is why regular access to mammograms is key and why breast cancer groups loudly rejected a 2009 study conducted by a Department of Health and Human Services task force that suggested new screening guidelines.

The study called for most women to start breast cancer screening at age 50, rather than 40; that women age 50-74 have mammograms every two years rather than every year; and that doctors stop teaching women to do self breast exams.

Nearly a quarter of people identified with breast cancer are diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 50, Shockney says.

A number of clinical trials are now being done on breast cancer vaccines, “and they are showing great promise,” she says. One day people may get an injection and “never have to worry about breast cancer again,” but until that time, self exams and mammograms are the basis for early detection.

“Breast cancer is a bump on the road,” Shockney says. “It’s not a derailment, and it’s not a dead end.”

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