Lee Hackett shows off her dining room table, decorated in the spirit of fall by her lifelong friend Tee Pittman, at her home in Columbus on Thursday. Pittman decorated the table last week after Hackett's knee replacement surgery temporarily limited her mobility. The two women have been friends for decades, and both are survivors of a form of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), from which they recovered without having chemotherapy. Photo by: Tess Vrbin/Dispatch Staff
October 16, 2020 10:44:24 AM
After two decades working at Golden Triangle Radiology, Lee Hackett is used to being in close proximity to other people's breast cancer diagnoses.
But she never expected to receive her own diagnosis, she said, until it happened 10 years ago when she was 54.
The results of a routine mammogram "looked suspicious" according to her radiologist colleagues, so she had a biopsy that revealed ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), meaning the cells that line the milk ducts of the breast have become cancerous, but they had not yet spread into the surrounding tissue.
"Some physicians don't call that cancer, but I do," she said.
A surgeon suggested a single mastectomy, and Hackett chose a double instead.
"I work in the business, and I've seen it come back," she said. "My surgeon raised his eyebrows, but my insurance company went along with it."
The mastectomy was the easy part, while getting reconstructive surgery from the doctor of her choice in Tuscaloosa was the challenging part, she said. She did not have to go through chemotherapy and considers herself very fortunate.
She said she was "never scared" and gives credit to her support system, including her longtime partner, her two grown children and lifelong friends like Tee Pittman and Meredith Fraser, both Columbus natives like Hackett.
Fraser said Hackett is "like the Energizer Bunny (and) just keeps on going" and praised her friend's courage in the face of her diagnosis.
"She went into it with the right attitude, which I think has a lot to do with it, and an amazing support group -- her family, her friends, her church," Fraser said. "She's probably one of the most courageous people I know."
Hackett said personally knowing the medical professionals caring for her was helpful because she knew she "was in good hands" the entire time.
Part of her job at the radiology clinic is to call patients and tell them if they need to make a follow-up appointment if something abnormal appears on a mammogram. Hackett had to make that call to both Fraser and Pittman.
It turned out nothing was wrong with Fraser after her biopsy earlier this year, she said. Pittman could not say the same back in 2003, when she was diagnosed with DCIS like Hackett later would be. But like Hackett, Pittman fully recovered after having a mastectomy, and she did not need chemo.
In addition to her lifelong friends, Hackett has developed a network of fellow breast cancer survivors and has participated in Columbus' Relay for Life, which she said is a good outlet to "commiserate and vent" about their experiences.
She said her own experience speaks to the necessity of routine mammograms, since breast cancer is "fixable if caught early," but she knows every experience is different, and almost everyone personally knows a breast cancer survivor.
"Sometimes it's fruitless to compare stories (because) all breast cancers are different," Hackett said.
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