'My cancer diagnosis: What I wish I'd known' – JoAnn Corbin

September 2, 2013 | by Nicole White

JoAnn Corbin, 78, has adopted a firm policy that has twice saved her life: Be proactive with your health.

Former breast cancer and ovarian cancer patient JoAnn Corbin took charge of her own health -- and saved her own life. She advises others to do the same. Former breast cancer and ovarian cancer patient JoAnn Corbin took charge of her own health - and saved her own life. She advises others to do the same. Photo courtesy of JoAnn Corbin

Earlier this year, Corbin kept her appointment for her annual mammogram, which turned up a suspicious spot. When a needle biopsy confirmed her physician’s suspicion of cancer, Corbin got in touch with City of Hope.

“Nobody likes to go and get a mammogram,” Corbin said. “That’s not the most fun thing to do. If I hadn’t done it, it probably would not have been a Stage 1 cancer. In a year’s time, it could have been a Stage 2 or 3 – then we’re dealing with something totally different.”

Like many cancer patients, Corbin was already a cancer survivor. In 2000, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and successfully treated at City of Hope. In both instances, Corbin’s commitment to protecting her health helped ensure an early diagnosis and a smooth course of treatment.

Laura Kruper, M.D., director of the Rita Cooper Finkel and J. William Finkel Women’s Health Center and head of breast surgery service at City of Hope, was Corbin’s surgeon. Kruper recommended a lumpectomy and a relatively new procedure called intraoperative radiation therapy, or IORT. In this procedure, a single concentrated dose of radiation is delivered directly to the tumor site immediately after surgery, replacing six to seven weeks of daily conventional radiation therapy that usually follows breast cancer surgery.

Corbin’s first bout with cancer was 13 years ago. She had just received her annual pap test, which returned a result that her doctor described as “regular inflammatory cells.” The doctor assured her that the result was nothing to worry about, but Corbin wasn’t satisfied with that answer.

“I’d been having what my mother used to call ‘the grips,’” she said. “I would be talking with somebody, and all of a sudden, I would be feeling something in my abdomen. I went back to my doctor and told her ‘I’m just not happy with this test result.’”

Additional screening, including an ultrasound, revealed a large tumor on her ovary.

“If I had just taken the doctor’s word, I might not have been around,” she said. “The tumor was the size of a grapefruit.”

We asked Corbin to look back at the time of her diagnosis and offer some advice to others in her position.

Be your own best advocate. Don’t be afraid to challenge your doctors if necessary. Corbin says that patients shouldn’t be afraid to speak up if they have concerns or disagree with a physician, and should also be comfortable seeking a second opinion elsewhere, as necessary.

Know your own body. “Only you know what you feel like when you feel good,” Corbin said. “If you don’t feel good, if there is something that is bothering you, you should get it checked out.”

Get your mammogram. No one looks forward to the screening, but for Corbin, the test found her breast cancer when it was still small and in its early stages. Mammography is the most beneficial and reliable screening test of all cancer screenings available, often able to detect cancer growing long before any physical examination could find a lump. City of Hope follows the American Cancer Society guidelines and National Cancer Center Network in recommending yearly mammograms for women over 40.

Be proactive about your own health. Get all recommended cancer screenings, see your physician regularly – and when a serious health problem is identified, get the best care available.

Stay positive. Corbin said she’s been blessed with a happy life, happy marriage and happy household. Throughout her cancer treatments, she has maintained a “glass half full” approach. “I think you can do a lot with your mind,” she said. “I think you can actually make yourself sick if you dwell on the small things.”

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