Laralyn McPherson envisioned spending her 50th birthday sipping a piña colada on a tropical beach. Instead, she spent the big occasion receiving a chemotherapy infusion.
Now cancer-free, the Myrtle Beach resident says the need for chemotherapy – and the associated side effects – might have been avoided entirely if she had sought medical care following a suspicious mammogram several years ago. She credits the care she received from the team at Tidelands Health Cancer Care Network, our region’s most comprehensive provider of cancer care, with helping her beat the disease.
McPherson, a mother of three children, was diagnosed with a slow-growing, estrogen-fueled type of breast cancer in August 2020. But the problem may have first been noticeable on a mammogram she had in 2016.
“They saw a little shadow, and it scared me to the point where I did not go back to the doctor and did not get a mammogram for the next three years,” she says. “If I had done that, it wouldn’t have been what it turned into, and I wouldn’t have been as sick.”
At her sickest, McPherson says she could barely walk to the bathroom unassisted and spent weeks lying in a recliner.
“I remember saying to my husband, ‘I’m not going back,’” she says. “If it wasn’t for my mom and husband, I wouldn’t have made it through those first chemo treatments.”
Strengthened by the support she received from her family, the New Jersey transplant endured the treatment to rid her body of cancer. McPherson says the first four chemo treatments were the worst, but once she “turned the corner,” treatment became easier.
“The oncology nurses will become your best friends. You draw strength from them and from others in the infusion center. You just get better as it goes along,” she says.
A difficult journey
The lime-sized tumor in McPherson’s left breast and four lymph nodes were surgically removed during a lumpectomy. Dr. Angela Mislowsky, a breast cancer surgeon at Tidelands Health Breast Center, our region’s only surgical practice dedicated solely to breast health, performed the successful surgery.
She says McPherson’s tumor was found during a routine screening mammogram screening, noting that it couldn’t be felt using a breast physical exam because of the density of McPherson’s breast tissue.
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“That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to undergo regular mammogram screenings,” Dr. Mislowsky says. “Most of the time, there are no noticeable physical changes to the breast. Mammograms help identify breast cancer as early as possible, which is critical to beating the disease.”
Dr. Mislowsky says chemotherapy is usually completed before surgery to shrink large tumors like McPherson’s. By shrinking the tumor, there is less scarring following the lumpectomy.
“Our goal is to minimize scarring and make your breasts look as normal as possible following surgery,” she says.
Genetic counseling revealed that McPherson is not predisposed to breast cancer, so she says she was comfortable pursuing a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy. But she continues to undergo regular mammograms and stresses the importance of the screenings to other women.
“Somebody who had kept up with their yearly mammograms would have probably had a small lumpectomy and a little bit of radiation and would have been OK,” McPherson says. “I had to do chemo. And if the cancer had been more aggressive, I might not have had the same outcome.”
McPherson says she posted her entire cancer journey on Facebook so her friends and loved ones could learn from her experience.
“I posted pictures of when I was at my sickest and the night my husband shaved my head. I wanted my women friends and my men friends who have women they love to understand the importance of getting regular mammograms,” she says.
Dr. Angela Mislowsky
Breast Surgeon, Tidelands Health Breast Center
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Dr. Angela Mislowsky is a board-certified, fellowship-trained breast surgeon who practices at Tidelands Health Breast Center.Learn More
New York Medical College
Union Memorial Hospital
The Hospital of The University of Pennsylvania, Breast and Oncology Surgery
- Board Certified, American Board of Surgery
Meet the Expert
Dr. Angela Mislowsky
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Dr. Angela Mislowsky is a board-certified, fellowship-trained breast surgeon who practices at Tidelands Health Breast Center.