Roanoke Valley breast cancer survivor encourages self-exams, mammograms


SALEM, Va. (WFXR) – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it is the perfect time for both women and men to get a mammogram if they haven’t already.

According to doctors, one in eight women can be affected with breast cancer and a yearly exam is important to detect the disease.

Barbara Leftwich has been free of breast cancer for one year. She says it was a tough journey, but what made her fight more difficult was being diagnosed just as the country was defending itself from COVID-19.

“It was very hard because I knew at that point that hospitals weren’t allowing visitors. They weren’t allowing anyone to be with the patients,” Leftwich said.

Leftwich’s husband, a school teacher, was able to be by her side while she recovered. Her son was also a strong source of support for her.

(Photo: Courtesy Barbara Leftwich)

“Actually, he’s the one who shaved my head when I started losing my hair. I know it was hard for him but it meant a lot to me,” Leftwich said as she flashed a big smile.

Doctors say when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the number of people getting mammograms decreased.

“[There were] less people initially when COVID hit but I would say over the last year we’re starting to see the numbers get back to where they were pre-COVID,” said Dr. Christin Martino.

Dr. Martino, whose specialty is radiology, is a mammographer with LewisGale Medical Center in Salem. She carefully studies mammogram images to see if there is any sign of possible cancer.

“We are seeing a few more cancers across the board, and I can only speak to the places where I have worked, but I feel feel like patients are returning back to getting their mammograms and we’re seeing similar numbers,” said Dr. Martino. “Mammography is the best thing we have right now. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t find all the cancers. We always need to be performing self breast exams and seeing our doctor once a year for exams. But it is a phenomenal study to help find breast cancer.”

Leftwich is one of the people whose breast cancer was not detected on a mammogram. Instead, an MRI was used to reveal her diagnosis.

Leftwich and Dr. Martino both say people should not use fear as an excuse not to get a mammogram.

“I think that fear should be minimized because at the end of the day this test may save your life,” said Dr. Martino.

“Don’t be afraid. It’s a very uncomfortable situation in a lot of ways but it’s very important,” said Leftwich.

Both women encourage people to perform self breast exams often and get an annual mammogram. They say detecting breast cancer early is best.

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