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Protect Your Family's Future: Senga's Story



Senga with her daughter, Sarah

When you first meet Senga, she'll most likely welcome you with a warm smile and a charming sense of humor, made even more charming by her accent.

Born and raised in Scotland, Senga started dating her husband Billy when they were both 13 years old. They went to the same high school in a small village, which Senga described as "one of those villages where everyone knows everyone, so growing up you couldn't get into trouble because your mom and dad knew about it before you got home."

Billy's career at Rolls-Royce moved Senga and their three children (Sarah, Ryan and Connor) from England to Canada then the United States, where they've lived in Texas, Brownsburg and now Avon, Indiana. Senga works at Walmart in Avon, loves to swim at the Hendricks Regional Health YMCA and never misses an episode of "Criminal Minds."

Another thing Senga never misses: a mammogram.

Making prevention a priority

Senga's grandmother and mother have both battled breast cancer. "We knew my grandmother had cancer, but I was so young that I didn't understand what kind of cancer," Senga recalled. Her mother was diagnosed at the age of 69. "When my mom was diagnosed, they caught it in her mammogram," Senga said. "She ended up with a lumpectomy and had radiation treatment." Her mother has been cancer-free for seven years.

Senga's family history puts her at an increased risk for breast cancer, so she took preventative action with annual 3D mammograms. This technology provides a clearer scan capable of detecting breast cancer up to 15 months earlier than a 2D mammogram. It is also recommended for patients like Senga with a family history of breast cancer and/or who have dense breast tissue.

Senga visited the High-Risk Prevention Clinic at the ​Hendricks Regional Health Breast Centerwhere she met with Nurse Practitioner and Prevention and Survivorship Specialist Jenni Pierle. Jenni suggested Senga undergo genetic testing​ to check for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, which pose an increased risk for breast cancer in women.

Though Senga did not test positive for BRCA, Jenni recommended she receive annual breast MRIs in addition to her annual mammograms. The two screenings are staggered so she receives a screening every six months. "I got the impression that Jenni and the team are very proactive rather than retroactive with their approach to care," Senga said.

The call to action

In February of 2017, Senga's routine 3D mammogram came back clear. But in September, when she went in for an MRI, her radiologist Dr. Ben Meyer noticed something wasn't right. He ordered Senga an MRI with contrast as well as a biopsy. The following afternoon, Senga received the phone call that changed everything: her biopsy confirmed she had breast cancer.

"When I got off the phone, I was in the house by myself at the kitchen table and thought, 'I have cancer. They just told me I have cancer.' I called my husband and tried to stay calm," Senga recalled. Billy was at work when the call came in. "Senga was telling me that she had been called from the doctor's office to go in immediately," Billy said. "At that point, when you hear that type of news, then you know it's not going to be good news. I hopped in the car and came home; we sat down together and went through all the information we had at that time."

"Unfortunately, cancer affects so many families," Senga said. "We were just one in millions, so I knew we could deal with this." Billy's recollection was that Senga was very upbeat at that point. "Our attitude was if they caught something, we just have to deal with it. Whatever the prognosis is... we'll get through it together."

Senga with Dr. Monet Bowling

The very next morning, Senga and Billy met with breast surgical oncologist ​Dr. Monet Bowling​. "She is fantastic. She came in the door very energetic. She's just got that kind of personality," Senga said. "She sat down and turned a legal pad to face me. Then she started writing upside down so I could read along."

Dr. Bowling explained that Senga had Stage 0 cancer in her left breast, and it had not yet spread into the surrounding breast tissue. Dr. Bowling drew Senga's diagnosis and treatment options on the notepad. "She was very in-depth in making sure I understood what was going on," Senga said. "My husband had a few questions, too." "I think she was expecting fewer questions, but I'm an engineer," Billy chimed in. "I want to know what's really going on."

The path to recovery

Senga with physical therapist Christy Wilson

In fall 2017, Senga underwent a full mastectomy with Dr. Bowling. She's also had reconstructive surgery by board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Rachel Scott of Hendricks Regional Health Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery​. "I'd say I'm one of the lucky ones. I didn't need chemotherapy because my breast cancer was contained and removed. It was discovered early, and the team at Hendricks moved really fast," Senga explained. "We discovered it, we dealt with it and now I'm in recovery."

During her mastectomy, three of Senga's lymph nodes were removed, which triggered lymphedema in her left arm. Lymphedema, which can cause painful swelling, affected Senga's ability to freely move her arm and prevented her from enjoying swimming and other activities she loves. Senga works with physical therapist Christy Wilson for ​lymphedema management​, one of the programs that Hendricks Regional Health utilizes to proactively assess and treat our cancer patients for concerns such as the type of swelling Senga was experiencing. During their appointments, Christy massages the area to help drain the lymph nodes and reduce pain and swelling. "Christy is wonderful," Senga added. "She is the lymphedema queen."

A partner's support

Senga with her husband, Billy

An important part of Senga's recovery was the loving attention Billy continued to give his wife. "When you've just been through a mastectomy or any other surgery that affects your body, sometimes you don't feel beautiful," Senga shared. "Sometimes just simple little things that Billy does like give me a hug, or sometimes he'll just flick my ear, lets me know I'm still part of his life, I'm still the other half."

"Some nights I could see... I could see in her eyes that she was hurting, and that made me feel so bad," Billy said with a quiver in his voice as tears filled his eyes. "You've got to be there, feel really strong. And a few cuddles here and there always help."

How does Billy feel about post-surgery Senga? "She's a much stronger lady now than she has been. You always wonder how a person's going to be after such an invasive surgery," Billy said, "but she's come out of it really strong. I'm really proud of her."

Once Senga's reconstruction is fully complete and healed, she plans to have 3D areola tattoo reconstruction. "Yeah, you're going to get you a new woman!" Senga said to Billy with a laugh.

A new normal

Senga's breast cancer journey has impacted her friends and family in many ways. Many of her relatives in Scotland, including her mother, flew in to help or check in with her often. Though her husband has always been supportive of Senga, her diagnosis has helped him to focus more on his health too. "When Billy comes home from work, we have 'our' time where we'll put on our running shoes and go for a walk."

After her experience with cancer, what advice does Senga have for others? "I'd encourage anyone to do the 3D mammogram instead of just a regular mammogram," Senga continued. "Even if you have to pay out of pocket... it was $61 extra for me. I'll pay $61 any day. When you think about it, it's just many cups of coffee."

Senga of Avon, Happy and Healthy

Senga is especially focused on her 23-year-old daughter Sarah, who is also at high risk for breast cancer. "With my family history and Billy's, Sarah's got a double whammy," Senga said. Billy's family also has a history of cancer. His mother passed away when he was 18 from ovarian cancer. She did not have the benefit of early detection.

Senga said her daughter has shown an interest in regular testing. "I want her to be proactive and make sure she does get all of the screenings necessary in a timely fashion. Since my diagnosis, she's asked a lot of questions and we've talked to Dr. Bowling about the actions we need to take for her now and in the future. Sarah's geared up."

Senga would give the same advice to other women about being proactive and watching out for your health. "Don't sit back and wait to get a mammogram—as soon as you hit 40, get it done." Billy couldn't agree more. "Early detection saved Senga's life."


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