Lake Wedowee realtor and breast cancer survivor Linda Stone
has three questions for newcomers to the scenic east Alabama lake community: Do you have a church? Do you have a doctor? And if the newcomer is a woman, have you had your mammogram this year?
For decades, Stone has considered herself a poster child for mammograms.
Consistent with an overall proactive approach to her health, she diligently maintained her annual breast cancer screening appointments and strongly advocated that her three surviving daughters (one daughter passed away several years ago) and friends do the same. Her screenings had always been normal, and she had no family history of breast cancer, but she was advised to be mindful of her dense breast tissue, which could camouflage a growing tumor and potentially delay early diagnosis and treatment.
Then a busy life got in the way. She readily admits that she grew complacent, mistakenly thinking she had aged out of her breast cancer risk by her early 70s. About 18 months passed without her annual mammogram.
With the encouragement — which eventually turned into firm insistence — of Justin Lovvorn, MD
, a board-certified family medicine physician with Tanner Primary Care of Wedowee
and her primary care doctor, she scheduled a screening on Tanner’s Mammography on the Move
mobile unit’s next visit to Wedowee in Fall 2019. With her history of dense breast tissue, she underwent the combination of a digital mammogram and ultrasound.
The results — a tiny suspicious spot in her left breast — abruptly ended that complacency.
“Maybe it was the more laid-back lifestyle here at the lake. Maybe it was because I was busy. Bottom line, I had grown complacent. That news got my attention. I am just so very blessed that it was an early diagnosis,” said Stone.
Cancer has a way of catching you off guard, when you are busy with other plans, said Stone, who had battled kidney cancer two years earlier.
Her breast cancer diagnosis came at a time she and her husband and real estate partner, Grady, had never been busier. Real estate as well as life partners, they relocated their primary residence and business in 2005 from metropolitan Atlanta to scenic Lake Wedowee, where they had been going for getaway weekends for years. They first renovated their getaway home and eventually broke ground on a brand new one while selling lake lots and homes to others as well.
Their family was rapidly expanding, too. Their three daughters presented them with eight grandchildren who are now having babies of their own — five so far, ages 2 to 8, including a pair of twins, all located close by in Georgia.
Following her mammogram news, Stone was referred to Raul Zunzunegui, MD
— known by his patients as “Dr. Z” — a breast cancer surgery specialist who leads the team at the Comprehensive Breast Care Center
in the new Tanner Health Pavilion, across from Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton.
From the beginning, nurse navigator Nicole Rooks, RN, shepherded Stone through the treatment process, providing information and guidance on next steps and Tanner resources to support her through her breast cancer journey.
Due to her early diagnosis, Linda underwent a lumpectomy with lymph node biopsy and radiation therapy at the Roy Richards, Sr. Cancer Center
, wrapping up her treatment earlier this year.
“I am grateful for the blessing of excellent medical care from my Tanner physicians and staff, starting with Dr. Lovvorn who inspired a sense of urgency for me to get my overdue screening. I was on track with every other aspect of my health care but that, and he nicely, but firmly, got me moving,” said Stone.
“I have also been pleased with the care I received from Dr. Z, Nicole and the entire Comprehensive Breast Care Center team. From the beginning, I knew I was in capable hands.”
Her advice to other women: “You have to take care of yourself. You can’t be too sure that you don’t need a test that’s recommended. Get a good primary care physician and stick with them, tell them what’s going on with any symptoms you may have and, by all means, do what they recommend.”
When it comes to mammograms, “don’t put it off. It’s never too early. Put it on your schedule and get it done. The Tanner Mammogram on the Move mobile unit is a great, convenient option. The mobile unit found a friend’s cancer as well as mine.”
Approaching the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis, Stone is back on track, doing everything she can to manage her health.
“I am very pleased, very healthy and very blessed.”