When Monica Helo was diagnosed with Stage Three breast cancer in June 2013, it ended up being the beginning of a new mission.
Helo had always been proactive about monthly self-exams, regular mammograms and ultrasounds. When she discovered a lump, she ended up going to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. During a review of all of Helo’s previous medical records, doctors learned that a 2009 ultrasound report indicated two lesions in her right breast.
Helo was not made aware of that report at the time. If those lesions had been tested further, Helo could have been diagnosed up to four years sooner, and her cancer most likely would have been less severe.
The shocking news caused Helo “anger, sadness, just all of the emotions.”
“I realize it’s a radiologist’s opinion,” she said in 2015. “But whether (a radiologist) considers it to be benign or not, patients should be told there’s a lesion there.”
Less than a month after diagnosis, Helo underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and a procedure to remove more than 30 lymph nodes. After that was radiation and reconstructive surgery.
“Most people who know me will tell you that I’m a pretty tough individual,” Helo said. “But cancer brings you to your knees. It humbles you a lot.”
Still upset about the 2009 report, Helo lobbied Louisiana lawmakers, resulting in the successful passage of a state law that gives patients more access to their mammogram and ultrasound records. The Monica Landry Helo Early Detection Act went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Under this law, patients receive a copy of their mammography report and the full narrative radiology report of ultrasound findings.
“I’m the kind of person that believes there’s a reason things happen sometimes,” she said. “Maybe there was a reason I didn’t get told about the 2009 report. If that reason was for me to push for legislation to make it better for somebody else, then so be it.”
Privately, Helo found herself coming to terms with her situation after much of her treatment was completed. It was the first time she could really ponder what had happened after months of doctor visits and numerous trips from her home in Crowley to M.D. Anderson.
“It’s like one thing after another,” she said. “When you’re in the middle of it, you really don’t have the time to sit down and think about it. Once it sinks in, it really starts to hit you. Then once you are done with everything, you kind of have to get your feet back on the ground and get back into a normal routine again. That’s kind of difficult.”
Six years later, Helo is grateful for a lot in life. She is especially thankful that she saw her only child get married and can now spoil her two grandchildren.
“I feel like there’s a reason for me to be here,” she said. “I try to give God a reason to leave me here. I try to make somebody else’s life better and I try to improve myself every single day.”