“This is the story of how I got my scars…”

Gretchen Yeninas, Associate Dean of Student Affairs

This is the story of how I got my scars. I’m going to say it in one word: mammogram. You were probably expecting me to say something else, like breast cancer, and that would have been correct, too.

When people hear the word cancer, some of those fears that you stuff deep down come rising up to the surface. It makes people say things like, “Oh, you poor thing,” or “That’s too bad.” I hated that. I got my scars because I was doing the right thing: I got my annual mammogram. It’s that preventative screening that women joke about regularly, put off or completely forget about…and while it may have given me a scar (or three), damn, is it important!

Forty-one-years old. It was only my second mamo ever. It was also a few days before Christmas. I scheduled it that way on purpose. Mamo first thing in the morning and the rest of the day to finish last minute shopping.

Perfect, right?

And it was perfect, until I got the call telling me I needed to come back for an ultrasound. That was Dec.22, 2014. Because of the holidays, I had to wait for a biopsy until Jan. 7, 2015. The confirmation the next day that it was indeed cancer rocked me, but I just wanted to know, “What’s my next step?” That was my refrain through a mastectomy, six treatments of chemotherapy, follow-up medicines, with one more surgery to go next year. Knowing what comes next made it easier for me to get through the day-to-day of my treatment.

I’m lucky. Wilkes provides staff and faculty with outstanding health care coverage. I didn’t have to leave the Wyoming Valley for anything. However, I’m surprised at the number of women who told me after they heard my story that they hadn’t been for a mamo in years. Why?? According to the American Cancer Society, all states except for Utah, require that private health insurance covers mammograms. And the Affordable Health care act (aka Obamacare) also covers mammograms. If you’re covered, what on earth are you waiting for? http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/moreinformation/breastcancerearlydetection/breast-cancer-early-detection-paying-for-br-ca-screening

So, was it cancer or the mammogram that caused my scars?

I suppose that’s up for debate, but the fact is, I took care of myself enough to get checked. Had my tumor gone unchecked, who knows what would have happened? Someone recently asked me if I would do it again. I was genuinely surprised by the question. No one chooses to have cancer and feel the way I did for months during chemo, but if I had to do it again, I know that I could. I had my bad days, but I had (and still have) tons of support from family, friends and strangers.

Another question I heard was about my hair. Immediately following my second chemo treatment, all my long, curly hair started to fall out. I was asked if I was mad about losing my hair. The answer is, no. I was mad that I didn’t cut it off sooner to be able to donate more. By the time I cut off three thick ponytails worth of hair, I had probably thrown out another ponytails worth. I just hope that Children with Hair Loss was able to make a great wig, or two, out of what I sent in. As an aside, if you’re looking to donate your hair, they take anything over 8”, natural or color treated. Visit them at: http://www.childrenwithhairloss.us/

So, back to my scars…they are a part of me, a daily reminder that I am healthy now. And I already scheduled my next mammogram, and I continue to encourage the women around me to get checked. A saying I’ve seen a few times sums up my experience: “A scar simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.”—Unknown. I feel like that fits me perfectly.