Angel Boudreaux was terrified to have a mammogram. A “really bad experience” with one after she pulled a muscle when she was 30 years old had soured her on the procedure, so it had been years since she had undergone the exam.
But in 2017, Boudreaux, a housekeeper from New Iberia, kept feeling bad. She was light-headed and dizzy. Doctors couldn’t come up with a diagnosis. She finally went to Alison Cantrall, a nurse practitioner, who vowed to find out the cause of Boudreaux’s problems. The first step was a mammogram.
“She didn’t want to undergo a mammogram. She had a history of a traumatic experience and was afraid of having another, which I understood fully,” said Cantrall. “I have a lot of experience working in the area of breast cancer, and although I've heard from a few that the imaging required for larger, dense breast tissue can be uncomfortable, this is not typically the norm. During our visit that day, something deep in my gut told me to push her on this issue. I wasn't going to let her leave her appointment without the order.”
On December 22, 2017, that test showed a mass on Boudreaux’s right breast.
“It was horrifying,” Boudreaux said. “That was a total shock. I didn’t feel a lump. I had no indication.”
Because the cancer had already spread to one of Boudreaux’s lymph nodes, she underwent several months of treatment, including chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. She is now cancer-free.
“Basically, my life has been consumed by it for the last two years,” she said.
There have been a lot of changes along the way. Boudreaux said she’s become closer to her three children and her 2-year-old grandson.
“It makes you take a real hard look at your life and realize that things were always easy. You don’t realize how easy it is,” she said. “I think I’ve become a lot stronger. I’m a lot better equipped to handle situations. Everything I’ve had to go through has been a battle. You just have to keep pushing and pushing. You can’t sit back and give up.”
She also appreciated little moments of joy during her treatment. Her son, now 5, was only a toddler when his mother was diagnosed. One of his favorite activities was playing with his mom’s hair, which fell out during the chemo treatments.
“It was scary to not have hair, but he was just so cute about it,” Boudreaux said. “He would climb up on a stool and rub my head and kiss my head and then take off and go about his business. It was the sweetest thing.”
Boudreaux said her older children, a 16-year-old daughter and 22-year-old daughter, were key parts of her support system as well.
“They kind of picked up the mommy load,” she said. “They did the chores and cooked for me when I wasn’t able to. Anything I needed, they were there. They would run to get medicine. They would help me in and out of the shower. They did everything. They have been my rock.”
Boudreaux now emphasizes the importance of women getting regular mammograms in an effort to catch any problems early. She’s especially thankful that Cantrall convinced her to get a mammogram, since later tests showed that her cancer was growing.
“If I didn’t go in when I did, I probably would have died,” she said. “It would have spread, and I don’t think it would have been a good outcome.”
The American Cancer Society recommends that women at an average risk for breast cancer begin annual mammograms at age 45. The ACS guidelines also say women should transition to mammograms every two years once they turn 55, but can continue with annual screenings if they so choose.
According to the American Cancer Society, mammograms will detect about 85 percent of breast cancers.