Jodie Lacombe with the mammovan that saved her life.

Cancer survivor inspires women to get a mammogram

Thanks to a mammogram, Jodie Lacombe tells the story of how important early detection of cancer really is.

When the B.C. Cancer Agency’s latest mammogram van (or mammovan) delayed a trip up to Bella Bella and came to Sooke instead last fall, Jodie Lacombe was stoked to get a checkup by way of the best cancer-detection technology around.

But the routine check last October was more than just an experience — it was a moment that changed Lacombe’s life forever, as just in a matter of minutes, the mammogram picked up something unusual.

Within two weeks, she was at the hospital for an ultrasound and a core biopsy, and 10 days later, she had the results.

In December, she had her first surgery, prompting the removal of a two-centimetre lump and three lymph nodes from her breast.

Before this process even began, Lacombe, a cosmetics specialist at Shoppers Drug Mart in Sooke, said she had no idea what was happening, and what may have potentially happened to her if it wasn’t for the mammovan’s scans.

“There were no visible signs, nothing, so there’s your proof that [mammograms] work,” she said, adding that if the cancer was left unchecked, the story now would be very different. “That’s how quick they can turn it around, but early detection is key.”

Lacombe’s path to recovery begins now, as she is scheduled to start her chemotherapy, which is done every two weeks for four months. Given her journey, she’s willing to share her story, hoping to encourage every other woman to get herself checked out, regardless of how uncomfortable the idea may seem.

“Don’t die of embarrassment. See a doctor, get a checkup,” she said.

The B.C. Cancer Agency’s mammogram all-digital vans, three of which now operate in B.C., are very different from more traditional scanning methods, which typically take weeks, even months to get information processed and get it to a doctor’s office. The vehicle can deploy virtually anywhere, even provide a waiting room for up to five people at a time.

Now, it can take minutes to potentially save someone’s life.

“Only half the people that are eligible are getting checked in B.C., so there are people dying of breast cancer that don’t have to die, because they could’ve been checked,” Lacombe said. “I’ll be totally fine, because they caught it early.”

Lacombe’s experience is also at the forefront of the upcoming fundraising gala event this Saturday (March 5), held in the Evergreen Mall parking lot, which is set to raise funds for the B.C. Cancer Agency’s mammovan program. Activities will include pony rides, tattoos, makeovers, hand massages and skin care consulting.

“We thought, let’s take something bad, turn it into something good. Tell Jodie’s story, and get as many people involved as we can so we can keep these vans on the road to help out more people,” said Marcus Farmer, manager at  Shoppers Drug Mart in Sooke.

“Let’s just remind everybody, and tell those who don’t know, that the best chance for a successful treatment of any cancer diagnosis is early detection.”

The actual mammogram screenings will begin on March 21 in Sooke and run until March 24. Women over 40 don’t require a doctor’s referral, they just need to make an appointment.

The visit, which usually takes a few minutes, is free, as it is covered under MSP.

Lacombe hopes both the gala and the mammovan’s arrival in town later this month will inspire more women to let go of their fears and get a checkup.

For more info on the B.C. Cancer Agency’s mammovan program, visit screeningbc.ca/breast, and to book an appointment, call 1-800-663-9203.