If Barb Gulley, 57, could tell women just one thing it would be this: "Get. Your. Mammogram." She says it just like that, too.
"I had a friend a long time ago who was almost 10 years younger than me. Her name was Juanita, but I called her Jenny. She was 29, and very close to me and my family. She came to me one day and said, 'I have a lump on my breast,' but she didn't have any insurance and didn't know what to do. She and I went to a doctor, and the doctor ordered a mammogram. When it came back it was Stage 4 breast cancer. She died at 29.
"That's why I always get my mammogram.
"You saved my life, Jen," says Barb, more to herself than to anyone else in the room.
"One day, years after Jenny died, I went in for my mammogram and they called me back. I had a biopsy. It was cancer. I was shocked as hell. I was like, WHAT?" Barb says. "After my experience with Jen I thought I was on my death bed. But you know what? It was one-half point before Stage 1. I had a lumpectomy, and they removed one of my lymph nodes to check it, but it was clean. I had a month of radiation, and it was gone.
"I know it went down like this because I get my mammogram every year," Barb says. "I know. Being called back is frightening. But the nurse navigator told me, 'You are so lucky because you caught it. You are your own best advocate."
Barb Gulley does not fool around when it comes to her health. About 10 years ago she was also diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. For that care she travels to Seattle to see neurologist Dr. Mariko Kita, chief of medicine at Virginia Mason Medical Center.
Barb is a few years out from her breast cancer diagnosis now. She is cancer free and a survivor. She continues to be a regular at `Ohana, Yakima Valley Memorial's Breast Health Center. And she still drives over to North Star Lodge, but these days it's for hormone therapy to prevent her form of cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma, from returning. Barb Gulley will have this therapy for five years as the medicine blocks hormone receptors and keeps her cancer free.
"Dr. (Steven) Register was my radiologist. I loooooove him. He was just so nice," she says. "Now I see Dr. (Sri) Obulareddy – I call her Dr. O."
Barb Gulley can't say this enough to anyone with breasts who will listen: "Get. A. Mammogram. My God, so you don't like having your boob crushed. Who cares?"