Monday, October 12, 2015

Nurse credits self-detection with saving her life

Andrea Romeiser, RN, poses for a photo with her daughter Aspen Jade, now 14. Andrea was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer in 2003.

When Andrea Romeiser was in nursing school, she gave a presentation about the importance of breast self-exams and what women should look for during those self-exams. Romeiser didn’t realize at that time how impactful that very message would be in her own life just a few years later.

“I remember telling the girls how important it is to know who you are and what you look like,” recalled Romeiser, a registered nurse and assistant manager of the post-surgical unit at Cox Medical Center Branson.

Around late spring in 2003, Romeiser, who was 30 at the time, noticed a piece of skin on her right breast starting to flake and peel.

“I mentioned this to my husband and said jokingly, ‘It might be cancer,’” Romeiser recalled.

Her husband responded, saying she shouldn’t be silly. For the next few months, she didn’t give the dry skin much thought.

During an annual physical exam in August of that year, Romeiser mentioned the spot to her doctor who said it was likely a callous from breast feeding her daughter.

In September of that year, Romeiser noticed the spot again and decided to see a breast specialist, remembering back to her presentation she’d given during nursing school.

After the exam at the breast clinic, Romeiser was informed that they would have to do a biopsy and that it was possible she could have a very rare type of cancer, however, the chances were very slim. The biopsy was performed the next day, a Friday. Following what Romeiser described as a very long weekend, she was given the news that Monday – she had the rare type of cancer the breast specialist had told her about the week prior. Her official diagnosis was ductal carcinoma in-situ with Paget’s disease.

Romeiser couldn’t understand why it was happening to her. She was only 30, in great shape, and had nursed both of her daughters, who were then 2 and 5. Breastfeeding has been credited with helping to decrease a woman’s chance of breast cancer.

After considering her family history – her maternal grandmother had breast cancer, as did five of her grandmother’s sisters and Romeiser’s had recently lost an aunt to breast cancer - she made the decision to have both breasts removed. While all of the cancer was removed on Dec. 12 of that year, for the next two years, Romeiser endured multiple surgeries and dealt with painful complications. Despite spending weeks in the hospital and having a total of 10 surgeries over the two-and-a-half years, she found comfort and peace in knowing she did the right thing.

Romeiser only had to see an oncologist once, but what he told her during that visit reaffirmed to her that all that she endured was worth it and that the treatment she had chosen was a good choice for that type of cancer.

“I remember he told me, ‘God has been watching over you. If you hadn’t found that piece of skin flaking off, you could have been dead in two to five years,’” Romeiser recalled.

Romeiser has since made it her mission to help raise awareness about breast cancer and the importance of self-examination.

Before making the move from Rush County, Kansas, to the Ozarks, Romeiser helped start the Rush County Relay for Life and she continues to help raise funds for the American Cancer Society.

Romeiser continues to celebrate life. Annually, she takes a trip to Las Vegas with friends where they relax, have fun, and take every opportunity they can to raise awareness.

Romeiser has also shared her story in the book, “Women as Healers: Voices of Vibrancy.”

“My message is a message about self-detection and knowing your body,” Romeiser said.

Rachel Morgan, CoxHealth Women's Center Branson mammography technologist, agreed that it is extremely important that women with normal risk factors begin self-exams at the age of 20 and at the age of 40, receive yearly mammograms.

“We want young women to be aware of lumps in their breasts as well as visible changes. If they feel lumps or changes, they should not be deceived that they are too young,” Morgan said. “If they notice any changes or lumps, they should contact their primary care provider to discuss concerns.”

Morgan said in addition to self-exams, it is recommended that women with normal risk factors begin having clinical breast exams starting at age 20. Talk with your doctor about how often you should have a breast exam. If you have a high risk for developing breast cancer, talk to your doctor about when to begin having routine mammograms and other screening tests.

To schedule a mammogram in Branson, call 348-8313. If you are in the Springfield area and would like to schedule a mammogram, please call 269-LADY. In Monett, call 354-1138.

For more information about breast cancer, visit