Cancer survivor urges early detection

SHELLEY — Starla Thompson was just 39 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, seven years later, she is free and clear of the deadly disease.
Thompson found a lump in her breast, but hesitated to have it checked. Three months later, in May of 2003, she again found the the lump—this time it was larger.
"I decided 'I can't just ignore this anymore,'" Thompson said.
Thompson scheduled an appointment at the Blackfoot Medical Center. Shortly after her exam, she had a mammogram and biopsy. It was cancer.
"It just went bam, bam, bam," Thompson said. "Within a week I had my mastectomy."
That summer Thompson underwent four chemotherapy treatments. Her mother, who was battling ovarian cancer, was going through chemo at the same time.
"It was tough," Thompson said. "We would check on each other every morning. It was something we were sharing."
Thompson finished chemotherapy in August. Her mother died in September.
"I felt she hung in there until I was finished," Thompson said. "It's a bond I don't think I'd change."
Thompson's family supported her throughout her treatments.
"My husband was my caretaker and my strength," Thompson said. "He just did everything for me.
"All of my fighting has been with and for my family."
Following chemo, Thompson was fitted with a prosthetic, and for three years researched reconstructive surgeries. She travelled to Salt Lake City for a consultation with Dr. Marga Massey, who performs microsurgical breast reconstruction.
Thompson decided to have a deep inferior epigastric perforator (DIEP) flap—where skin, fat and associated blood vessels are transplanted to the chest wall from the abdomen.
Shortly after meeting with Massey and making her decision, Massey moved to South Carolina. Thompson had to decide her next step.
"I just knew that's what I needed to do," Thompson said. "I saved my money and I went to South Carolina."
Thompson spent 12 hours in surgery, then stayed in the hospital four days.
While there are pros and cons for any reconstructive breast surgery, Thompson said she chose to have the DIEP surgery to avoid complications caused by implants.
"It's just all natural," Thomspon said.
Today, Thompson is cancer-free and the risk of breast cancer returning is minimal. But with a family history of cancer, she worries that her breast cancer or her mother's ovarian cancer could be hereditary.
"My fear now is for my daughter and my granddaughters," Thompson said.
Thompson encourages women to seek help early, and not to avoid treatment due to fear.
"There's so much help out there," Thompson said. "There's so much hope."