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Local Breast Cancer Survivor Shares Her Story

Local Breast Cancer Survivor Shares Her Story
By, Molly Hucklebridge Coolidge
Communications Specialist, Barton Health

September 11 evokes a different meaning to South Lake Tahoe resident Christine O’Farrell. In 2002, on the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Christine was on the operating table at Barton Memorial Hospital facing a new threat: cancer.

Christine had been diagnosed with an aggressive case of breast cancer. At the time, she was 42 years old and working at Barton’s Home Health and Hospice for quality assurance and infection prevention. Her three children were 14, 12, and 9.

“I thought I did everything right,” Christine recalls. “I exercised, I ate organic food, I didn’t smoke, and I knew and avoided all the risk factors I could.”

But Christine had a family history of breast cancer. Both her aunt and cousin had it and as an extra precaution, Christine started annual mammograms at age 35. 

During a routine mammogram screening in August 2002, Barton Medical Imaging staff detected something in her breast. The radiologist conducted an ultrasound the same day and that “something” became “something suspicious.” 

A stereotactic breast biopsy confirmed it was breast cancer and it was growing fast.  In less than a month, Christine was on the operating table.  As a nurse with an analytical and detailed mindset, Christine consulted multiple medical providers, researched her treatment options, and opted for a lumpectomy.

A lumpectomy is a less invasive surgery that only removes the cancerous tumor and the tissue surrounding it. Today, a lumpectomy is a common treatment option, but Christine says thirteen years ago it was considered controversial.

After her lumpectomy on September 11, Christine underwent eight weeks of radiation. In December, she was free and clear of cancer.
“I feel very fortunate they were able to catch it early on and take action so quickly,” says Christine. “Early detection opened more options for treatment and the best possible outcomes.”

Christine continues to be an advocate for breast cancer prevention and early detection. She offers the following tips to help prevent or detect breast cancer:
  • All women over age 40 should complete a mammogram screening annually. If you have a family history of breast cancer, ask your doctor when to start screenings and which is right for you. The Affordable Care Act requires all insurance carriers and Medicare cover the patient’s cost of a mammogram every 12 months.
  • Women age 20 and over should conduct a self-exam of their breasts monthly and complete a clinical breast exam every year.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.  Eat whole foods and at least five fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Avoid smoking and limit alcohol intake.  Smoking and heavy alcohol use greatly increase your risk of cancer.
  • If you or a loved one receive a breast cancer diagnosis, be proactive. Research your options, get a second opinion, and be your own advocate.  
Today, Christine remains cancer free.  She continues to get mammogram screenings every year, and her risk of reoccurrence is the same as never having a cancer diagnosis.

Christine O’Farrell, Breast Cancer Survivor's Story

Christine O’Farrell, Director of Quality Management, oversees quality assurance, patient safety, and infection prevention for Barton Health. Thanks to a $220,000 donation from the Barton Auxiliary, Barton’s Medical Imaging will be purchasing a 3-D Breast Tomosynthesis, an advanced type of mammogram. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month