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Survivor: Proactive Approach Needed In Fight Against Breast Cancer

Part of Cathy Northcraft’s support group through her battle with breast cancer was her “work family” at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia. From left are former U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld, Amy Pramesa of Saint John’s Home, Northcraft and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Vogrin. Photo Provided

WHEELING — Cathy Northcraft began her battle with cancer long before her first diagnosis in 2000.

Her mother fought for five years with the disease before passing away while Northcraft was still a young girl.

Northcraft received her diagnosis in 2000 during a follow-up appointment after discovering a lump in her right breast.

“When I first found out, I was in shock. Myself and my doctor were not expecting my results to come back with that. I knew I had two choices: Wait one year for a follow-up or receive a referral for a surgeon.”

Northcraft decided to undergo six weeks of radiation therapy after deciding she needed to be proactive about her diagnosis. She worked with radiation specialist Dr. Jondavid Pollock of the Schiffler Cancer Center at Wheeling Hospital.

“He is the person that told me I am responsible for my own health at the end of the day. He was amazing through the entire process,” said Northcraft

Once Northcraft got through her radiation treatments, she began her annual visits with breast surgery specialist Dr. Rosemarie Hardin for her mammograms and MRIs. She said these regular visits are crucial when dealing with such a progressive disease.

Northcraft was diagnosed with breast cancer again in 2011 — this time in her left breast.

“Due to the fact that my mother had cancer and I have had it twice, I do have to visit the doctor on a regular basis and it’s a little scary every time I go, because you never know what you’ll find,” she said.

Her second diagnosis was discovered early on thanks to her regular mammograms, which she receives twice a year.

Northcraft stressed that doctor’s appointments are not enough when it comes to taking care of your body.

“You really have to stay on top of your own health and take care of yourself. Self breast exams are as critical as an annual breast exam,” Northcraft said.

Northcraft has some advice for anyone dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis.

“Find doctors you are comfortable with and obtain a great support system,” she said. “My amazing husband and wonderful friends supported me through both diagnoses and treatments, and that definitely helped me get through each day.”

While undergoing radiation, Northcraft never took leave from her career at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, with the exception of her surgeries. She said that in addition to a good support system in and out of work, staying busy is very important.

“I worked at the U.S. Attorney’s office for over 30 years and the people there are really amazing and were such a wonderful support system. We are just such good friends and it helped keep my mind busy,” Northcraft said.

She recalls having many people reach out to her and said very few people have the same experience as her.

“Many people receive cards within a few days or weeks of their diagnosis, but after that people don’t check in with you to see how you are doing. I was so lucky to have such an amazing group of people supporting me, that the letters and cards never stopped.”

Northcraft encourages anyone who knows someone that may have cancer to check in with them continually, even months after the diagnosis.

“Just because you haven’t seen them in a few weeks or months, doesn’t mean it has gotten any easier on them. A card telling someone to feel better can make their entire day and that is worth it to me,” she said.

Northcraft is now enjoying her first year of retirement with her husband and is cancer-free. She said she knows that she has done her best to make her mother proud.

“I’ve just always felt and hoped that I would be as kind and loving of a person as she always was,” Northcraft said. “I’m just so blessed and so thankful for my life and all that is to come.”

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