TRAVERSE CITY — This year Kathy Bussell got diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time.
The Traverse City resident knew something wasn’t right and showed the dimpling to her mother and sister. Both of them went with Bussell for the mammogram.
On that day her doctor suggested an ultrasound. Her mother said that she knew from the look on the doctor’s face the news was the kind they didn’t want to hear.
“She just accepted where she was and started fighting,” said Bussell’s mother, Pat Bishop.
Bussell was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer, which grows in a milk duct and spreads to fatty tissue.
IDC makes up for 80 percent of all breast cancers in the country.
Dr. Leah Carlson, a breast imaging radiologist with Grand Traverse Radiologists, said the number of breast cancer cases overall is much higher in Grand Traverse County.
Every 150 to 160 per 100,000 people in the area are diagnosed with some form of breast cancer.
The reason is unknown, but public health officials are researching why.
This was the second IDC diagnosis for Bussell. The first, five years earlier, led to a hysterectomy as part of her overall treatment.
Her first bout proved Bussell to be a fighter, Bussell’s sister Barb Mahon.
“I knew she could conquer it again. I didn’t know how invasive or where it was. I just wanted to support her however I could,” Mahon said.
It’s unusual for this type of cancer to reoccur — only 5 percent of patients have a recurrence within 5 years, said Carlson.
It’s even more unusual that it was found in the other breast.
“Most cancers start because of damage in DNA. We know of some that are sporadic, meaning they have been caused by damage in the environment,” said Carlson. “Some cancers can lay dormant and grow somewhere else in the body.”
Bussell had a double mastectomy this past August.
“I mourned it, cried over it, but the thing is I have learned acceptance. I don’t have to like it, but I have a life worth living for,” said Bussell. “Right before surgery, the doctor said to me, ‘this will not kill you.’”
She also learned cancer had spread to her lymph nodes.
Her journey was far from over, but with that came some encouraging news.
An Oncotype DX test showed she may be able to avoid chemotherapy. Oncotype scores the likelihood of cancer re-occurring and recommends whether the side effects of chemotherapy can outweigh the benefits in certain patients.
Sometimes it calls for another form of treatment such as radiation or hormone therapy. In Bussell’s case, she will likely undergo both.
“Not everyone gets the results I have gotten. I feel so grateful, but feel for people who have not been as lucky,” said Bussell.
The recurrence of the disease also prompted her doctor to do genetic counseling, testing 47 genes.
Two of those are BRCA1 and BRCA2, which increase the likelihood someone will get cancer by up to 72 percent.
Bussell was negative for both; doctors are investigating a different gene mutation in Bussell.
Some of the hardest times during treatment is the anxiety while waiting for results, she said.
Undergoing testing and treatment is an emotional experience, Mahon said of her sister.
“She wants to talk, talk. She wants to cry, cry. Scream, scream. Just express it,” Mahon said.
The support of her family, friends and community has been incredible, Bussell said.
Her sister recalls picking up piles of cards in Bussell’s mail during recovery from her mastectomy.
Gestures of kindness can go a long way during a tough time, Mahon said.
“If you know someone going through something take two seconds to address it. Mail a card,” said Mahon.