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Just as COVID-19 was beginning to impact South Florida, a local frontline nurse got news that forever changed her life.
Becky Karfield is 63 years old and works at Plantation General Hospital. Back in February, she went in for her annual mammogram and found out she had breast cancer at the same time South Florida began to shut down.
“Going through that during COVID time was probably one of the hardest,” Karfield said.
COVID-19 was spreading, places were closing and Karfield was navigating her way through a heartbreaking diagnosis. She spent the next months getting lymph nodes removed, going through surgery, rounds of chemotherapy, and radiation.
“It was a little strange, though, because you had no one with you so not having any support system while you’re going through surgery — it was challenging,” Karfield recounted.
Doctors say the pandemic has also proven challenging to get women to do their screenings.
“I think that has been a barrier for patients … because (mammograms) are theoretically not emergency screening procedures, i.e. patients who don’t have issues,” said Dr. Ihor Pidhorecky, a surgical oncologist at Westside Regional Medical Center. He was also Karfield’s surgeon.
“So, we’re finding smaller and smaller cancers that are more curable and that’s the name of the game of any screening,” he said.
With the pandemic, he is seeing some people putting off a mammogram even more so.
“You know, I have a lot of women that I see that miss two, three, four years,” Pidhorecky said. “A lot of it is insurance or financial reasons, or things going on in our lives, and we tend to forget about ourselves and our own health.”
For Karfield, it was her priority.
“I felt bad because I had cancer, but then I was angry because of COVID, because it really stopped me being able to do things that I would’ve normally been able to do even with cancer and chemo treatment and my decreased immune system,” she said.
Karfield is now taking time off for the next six months to give her body time to build immunity to return to nursing.
“I’m not afraid to go back to work,” Karfield said. “I just want to be strong and mentally ready for it, and I’m getting there in both ways.”
“I would say that 80-90% of the patients who come see me with a breast cancer diagnosis are curable,” Pidhorecky said.
Doctors say for every eight American women, one will develop breast cancer. Remember, it can impact men too. Pidhorecky says a huge weapon is to know your family history and get your screenings.