Eileen Bailey of Tupelo has been having mammograms since age 30 because of a strong family history of breast cancer. In July, the radiologist noticed that her mammogram “just looked different.”
“Dr. Edmonson has been looking at my mammograms for years and he knew we needed a second look,” she said.
After her second mammogram and an ultrasound, she went straight to her surgeon’s office to schedule a biopsy.
“The spots were so tiny that they were unsure of what it was,” she says. “I’m glad they were diligent and didn’t want to take a wait-and-see approach. I would much rather know, and it’s a blessing that everyone was so proactive.”
Eileen was diagnosed with Stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma. The treatment path she chose was a double mastectomy and reconstruction. “I knew it was cancer and I didn’t want to live with cancer,” she says.
Eileen says she is so thankful for the connections she has made here over the years since moving to Tupelo in 1987. In 2006, she was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma that had to be surgically removed, which is how she met the general surgeon who performed her operation.
“I honestly believe the team that did my surgery and treatment saved my life,” she says. “You have these medical professionals and they are truly in your corner. They tell you they’ll do all they can, and you can feel confident that they are telling you the truth. I’m so glad I chose to stay in Tupelo for my treatment because these are people that I know and that care about me. Why would I choose to go somewhere else to someone who doesn’t know me?”
After her diagnosis, Eileen met with Angie Taylor, a nurse practitioner with NMMC Cancer Care who provides genetic testing and counseling services. She discovered that her breast cancer had a BRCA2 gene mutation. Her physicians also told her it was a rare type, referred to as “triple positive,” which means that the cancer is driven by genes and hormones. “This just validated that I had made the right choice for me by choosing to go the mastectomy route.
“When my mom was fighting cancer she told me to be proactive, to do what I could do to prevent health problems. So when faced with this choice, I felt it was the best option for me.”
About one year before her diagnosis, she had weight loss surgery at NMMC.
“I think that surgery allowed me to be more physically fit,” she says. “I was able to recover better from surgery.”
Because of the strong genetic component of Eileen’s diagnosis, she says she and her husband have started discussing prevention and screening with their 18-year-old daughter, Claire.
“Claire is a freshman at Auburn, and we had to get her moved in before my surgery,” she says. “We wanted her to go, have fun, focus on her studies and not be at home worrying about me. We don’t want her to be afraid, but we do want her to be aware of the risks. We have told her to talk with us or her doctor about any concerns and she knows to always keep an eye out for anything that might be different about her body.”
Now that Eileen is recovered from surgery, she is enjoying being back with her regular fitness classes at the NMMC Wellness Center, going for walks with her husband, reading with her book club and going camping.
Eileen is a seventh grade teacher at Tupelo Middle School. The day of her second appointment with her oncologist, Dr. Jiahuai Tan, she also found out she had been named Teacher of Distinction.
“I feel great now,” she says. “It is truly a blessing that I am able to be where I am after such a short time. It is thanks to the medical professionals who helped me, the prayers and support of my friends and my church family, and most of all my sister and husband who never left my side.”