By Robert Lucke
Think about this. You are 35 years old, and are sitting on top of the world. You have a loving husband, three wonderful young children, a good job teaching school at Highland Park Elementary and you just moved into a new house. Life is good.
Until one day you feel a lump in your breast and suddenly your whole life falls apart. Even worse, it is much worse for your family than it is for you.
That is what happened this last summer to Danelle Bakke.
"It was amazing. I loved my job, my kids and we had just moved into a new house. Within a week I found out that my life was upside down," Bakke said.
It was even more amazing because women traditionally are not encouraged to seriously consider breast cancer until they are above 40.
"I was only 35 and felt a lump. Most people don't even really start checking until they are 40 and what amazed me even more is the number of people who have breast cancer and that are under 40 like I was," Bakke said. "Women my age are not even considered to be at risk yet and yet with women under 40 if they do get it, it is more often more advanced because it wasn't detected early."
Only the lump, nothing else.
"I had no symptoms at all. Thank God my doctor took me seriously and checked it. I ended up having two lumps and I even had trouble with my insurance paying because I was under 40," she said. "I think that women don't like to be seen as argumentative so they don't insist that they get checked. I had three doctors tell me that chances were it was nothing, and I want to let women know not to be afraid to insist that they get checked."
In Great Falls, Bakke was told she had breast cancer. She was referred to Seattle for treatment and insists that getting more than one opinion from a doctor is a good idea.
"You need to feel comfortable with your medical care," Bakke said. "You need to be sure that you are getting what you need."
Bakke had a mastectomy, and now is undergoing rigorous chemotherapy treatment being administered out of Billings. After that ends, she will be driving to Great Falls daily for six weeks of radiation therapy.
"We are doing all these things to make sure the cancer does not reoccur because if it does come back it is much more difficult to cure," Bakke said.
"I get through with my chemotherapy and start the radiation in February. And I am almost through with the hard drugs in chemo and in November start some easier ones. I am doing all right so far and am going to continue to."
Worse off is her family. Her husband, Kris, and small children, Kelsey, Michael and Ryan, have a hard time dealing with Bakke's illness, as do her mother and father. That is normal for families of cancer patients.
"The hardest thing for me is watching how hard it is for them. Even my mom and dad. It is really hard on families," she said.
The good news for Bakke is her attitude. She is going to whip the
cancer and is looking to be going back to work at least part time teaching first grade at Highland Park School by the end of this year.
"And I think that by the end of March when the treatment is
completed, I will be cured," Bakke said, smiling.
Bakke is part of a national breast cancer study based in Seattle. They take her blood every so often in order to determine what the role of genetics is in breast cancer. This study will perhaps answer some of those questions for people everywhere.
And like so many dealing with cancer, support groups really help.
"I have gone to breast cancer meetings at the college and I have a very big cancer support group over the Internet. That has been very helpful," Bakke said.
But most of all, Bakke cannot say enough about alerting women not to wait until they are 40 for breast exams.
"It is really important to check yourself. Use self exams by touch. If I had not checked, I would have been in really big trouble. And take charge of yourself. You have to be aware of things yourself. No one else can do that for you," Bakke said. "I cannot say enough to get checked. This is a horrible thing for your husband and kids to have to go through. It is really a hard thing to go through."
The Montana Breast and Cervical Health is administered by Hill County Family Planning for Hill, Blaine, and Phillips counties. Women between the ages of 50 to 64 who are either low income, under-insured or noninsured may have clinical breast exams, pap smears and mammograms with their own provider at no cost. For more information, call 265-2519.