Cancer survivor pushes for notification legislation

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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) - October is breast cancer awareness month. One Neenah woman is using her survival experience to not only educate, but hopefully legislate for better breast cancer detection.

Gail Zeamer is a breast cancer survivor, having gone into remission this past June. As someone who routinely got a mammogram, her stage 3 cancer diagnosis in February of 2016 came as a shock.

According to Zeamer, "There were two mammograms in a row, two years in a row that I felt the lump, that nothing showed up on the mammogram and I was told that it was a cyst and not to worry about it. What I didn't understand is that it was cancer and it was growing."

During her treatment, Zeamer learned her breast tissue was very dense which most likely hid her tumor.

She said, "I saw a radiologist, met with a radiologist and he told me it's something that I will never forget. He said, your tumor was like trying to find a polar bear in a snowstorm."

"Denser breasts are unfortunately more difficult to asses for cancer with traditional plain film mammograms," adds Dr. Nelida Sjak-Shie, a ThedaCare Oncologist.

Equipped with that knowledge only after her diagnosis, Zeamer started researching and learned about forty percent of women have dense breasts, putting them at a slightly higher risk for breast cancer in addition to the detection issue. But at the time, only 26 states, one of which wasn't Wisconsin, had notification laws which required doctors to inform patients, with dense breast tissue, of the risks.

"I had really aggressive care to save my life and I feel like if I would have known that I had dense breast tissue, possibly my cancer could have been caught early," says Zeamer.

That's why Zeamer is working with her local legislator to draft a bill the would require notification, which could lead to additional testing for women in the affected group. But until a bill is passed, she's sharing her story in hopes of simply getting women to talk with their doctors about this concern.

Zeamer adds, "It would not require that an ultrasound be done. It would not require that a breast MRI be done. It's just giving women information."