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Horry County Schools administrator back at work after overcoming breast cancer

Horry County Schools administrator back at work after overcoming breast cancer

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Aimee McElveen, assistant principal at Lakewood Elementary in Horry County, and her family received tremendous support as she battled - and beat - breast cancer.

Aimee McElveen, assistant principal at Lakewood Elementary in Horry County, received tremendous support as she battled - and beat - breast cancer.

Aimee McElveen doesn’t want to speculate about what might have happened if she had skipped her mammogram last year.
Little did she realize it, but at some point between annual screenings cancer had begun growing in her right breast.
“I didn’t feel anything,” says the Surfside Beach mother of two. “There were no signs or symptoms. I had no idea.”

The diagnosis

McElveen, 43, went for her annual mammogram in June 2019. When the results came back inconclusive, she was called back for a follow-up visit and biopsy. On July 3, she learned the results from Dr. Angela Mislowsky, an experienced breast surgeon at Tidelands Health Breast Center, our region’s only surgical practice devoted solely to breast health. 

Aimee McElveen was buoyed by support from her family, friends and church community as she battled breast cancer.

Aimee McElveen was buoyed by support from her family, friends and church community as she battled breast cancer.

“Dr. Mislowsky said, ‘You have breast cancer,’” recalled McElveen, assistant principal at Lakewood Elementary in Horry County. “I said, ‘great.’ I just thought, ‘it is what it is. I’ll deal with this.’”
With plans already made to visit family and friends in Florida the next day, McElveen decided she would use the trip to collect her thoughts and “connect with my people.”
“When I got home from vacation, I was ready to go,” she says. “I felt strong and prepared to get on with it.”

Surgery and reconstruction

McElveen was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common invasive breast cancer, says Dr. Mislowsky. Treatment typically includes a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. McElveen opted for a single mastectomy to remove the entire breast followed by reconstructive surgery.

Aimee McElveen's treatment for breast cancer last year included a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and chemotherapy. She chose to undergo a second mastectomy in January due to her young age and the risk for cancer in her other breast.

“Mastectomies can decrease the need for radiation, which in Aimee’s case, it did,” says Dr. Mislowsky. “If she’d had a lumpectomy, she would have needed radiation.”
After the mastectomy in August and follow-up reconstruction, McElveen began chemotherapy that lasted through December. Because of her young age and risk for the development of cancer in the other breast, McElveen chose to have a second mastectomy in January.

‘BE KIND, LOVE BIG’

A cancer diagnosis was not foreign to McElveen’s family. Her husband, Graham, successfully battled lung cancer in 2011. They both now see Dr. Sara Adams, their oncologist at Tidelands Health, for follow-up care.
“My husband and I share everything and do almost everything together,” she says. “We never thought we’d share an oncologist, too.
“He understood what I was going through. But I tell you, it’s a lot easier to be a caregiver than the one needing the care, especially when you’re a mother.”

Aimee McElveen and her husband, Graham, who successfully battled lung cancer in 2011.

Aimee McElveen and her husband Graham enjoy spending time outdoors kayaking and camping with their children. Though they share nearly everything together, they never expected to share an oncologist.

To cope mentally and emotionally, McElveen leaned on her friends, family and church family at Belin United Methodist Church in Murrells Inlet. She also journaled and openly spoke with others about her cancer experience.
“There were definitely days when I was down about the situation,” she says. “But you’ve got to keep a positive attitude and find the good in each day. My cancer journey is no worse than anything else someone is going through, whether it’s a divorce or financial difficulty. Our trials are bad for all of us, and yet we still have to stay positive.”

McElveen's treatment for breast cancer last year included a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and chemotherapy. She chose to undergo a second mastectomy in January due to her young age and the risk for cancer in her other breast.

Although she struggled emotionally at times, Aimee McElveen tried to maintain a positive attitude and find the good in each day.

The community support she received through the ordeal was heartwarming, she says.
“So many people in my community supported me and loved me big,” she says. “I think you get what you give.”
To convey the importance of being there for each other, McElveen developed a tagline: “BE KIND, LOVE BIG.”
“We felt that because we got it back tenfold,” she says.

Praise for her care team

These days, McElveen takes a daily dose of Tamoxifen, a medication used to treat breast cancer and block its re-emergence. She also goes back for checkups every six months.
After taking off a year of work to battle the cancer, McElveen is overjoyed to be back at work and enjoying life. She and her family often go camping and kayaking.

Sign up today for ‘In The Pink’ Breast Cancer Awareness Walk

Sign up today for the 15th annual “In The Pink” Breast Cancer Awareness Walk, which is continuing throughout the month of October, by clicking here. 

“I am active, and don’t feel limited at this point in time,” she says.
Her excellent care at Tidelands Health Cancer Care Network, an affiliate of MUSC Health and our region’s most comprehensive provider of cancer care, made the experience less daunting and less stressful, McElveen says.
“My care team was so accessible,” she says. “I can’t sing my praises enough for them. The hospitals were great, and the chemo nurses were amazing.”

Team approach

Dr. Mislowsky says cancer patients at Tidelands Health, one of a select few health care providers in South Carolina accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, are supported by a multidisciplinary team that works together to achieve the best outcomes for each patient.
“When patients know there is a team there to help them navigate through, they’re more comfortable about asking questions so they can make more informed decisions and choices,” she says. “With everybody working together for that patient, it helps them feel more confident about their treatment plan and the path going forward.”
McElveen’s experience speaks to the importance of having routine mammograms, Dr. Mislowsky says.

Schedule your mammogram today

Scheduling your mammogram at a Tidelands Health location near you has never been easier and more convenient. Call 1-866-TIDELANDS today. 

“It’s extraordinarily important,” she added. “With mammograms, we can find breast cancers that are curable prior to a person actually feeling a cancer or noticing skin changes.”
Getting her annual mammograms is something McElveen has always made sure to do, and she’s strongly encouraging others to do the same.
“It’s not something you want to miss or forget to do,” she says. “It’s a big part of my story. If it wasn’t for my mammogram, my story would be very different.”

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