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One Southeast Asian Patient's Story

"It was hard for me at first to accept that I had breast cancer."

Sina Sar KimSina Sar Kim is diligent about having an annual mammogram. As a health information specialist at the Lowell Community Health Center for 19 years, she understands the importance of screening and early detection.

“My health is important to me and my family,” says the 46-year-old Lowell resident and mother of four, who came to the U.S. from Cambodia in 1981.

But she still wasn’t prepared for what happened in March 2010.

“I went for my yearly mammogram and they noticed an unusual spot,” Sina relates. “They sent me for an ultrasound, then a biopsy, then a breast MRI, then another biopsy.” The diagnosis: breast cancer.

Because Sina had her mammogram, the cancer was found very early, before the abnormal cells even turned into a lump that could be felt. Most often, such calcium deposits are benign (non-cancerous) but for 15-20 women in 100, they are found to be early stage breast cancer – very treatable, but still needing care.

“My surgeon, Dr. Rebecca Shore, was very kind and supportive, and helped me understand and cope with the fact. The Breast Health Navigator at Lowell General also explained what they found, what it meant, and how to begin getting treatment.”

Sina had no family history of breast or ovarian cancer and no factors that put her at risk – other than being a woman. Even though her mammograms showed no abnormal spots in prior years, this one did.

“They have been very understanding,” she says of her healthcare team. “They’ve taken good care of me. They understand my concerns, and took the time to make sure I was clear on all parts of my treatment.”

After surgery to remove the cancer, Sina completed six weeks of radiation therapy. She will continue hormone therapy for five years to help prevent the cancer from returning. Sina acknowledges that there are cultural barriers to promoting breast health awareness within the Southeast Asian community.

“Younger women are more educated and understand the importance of seeing a doctor regularly and having mammograms,” she says. “But many women in the older generation still believe they cannot get cancer because they have had children and breastfed them, which is not the case.” Breast cancer can affect any woman, although the risk is lower with childbirth.

“It can be hard to explain the importance of early detection to someone who doesn’t speak English, even with an interpreter,” she adds.

To help meet these challenges of education and awareness in the larger population of Southeast Asian women in Greater Lowell, Lowell General and the Lowell Community Health Center collaborated on an outreach initiative funded by the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

“It’s so important for women to take the time for screening,” Sina says. “I was fortunate that they detected my breast cancer at an early stage so I was treated and have hope of a long and happy life.”

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