Regional One Health lab tech Regina Bunker never expected a routine mammogram to turn into a life-changing event.
But when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Regina needed two surgeries, radiation treatments, and medication to be declared cancer-free.
Now a proud breast cancer survivor, Regina is making it her mission to encourage other women to get their annual screening mammogram.
When Regina Bunker went for her annual mammogram on her lunch break, she never expected her life would change within that one short hour.
Now, she’s turning that change into something positive: encouraging other women to be vigilant about screening for breast cancer.
In 2018, Regina, who has worked as a medical lab tech at Regional One Health for 40 years, scheduled a routine screening mammogram. She remembers making the short walk from the hospital’s lab to the mammography clinic and having her test, right on track to be back to work well before lunchtime was over.
“Before I could even get back to the lab, the phone was ringing,” Regina said. “They told me to come back because the radiologist wanted more pictures. I figured something was wrong with the machine. All I thought was, ‘I have to do this again?’”
She went back, had a second mammogram, and was told to wait while the radiologist looked at the new images. “Then, they asked me if I knew where ultrasound was, because they needed more images. At that point, the wheels started turning in my head,” she said. “When I walked over to ultrasound, my palms were sweating.”
It was in ultrasound, less than an hour after her screening mammogram, that Regina learned the news that would change her life.
“The radiologist walked in, and I’ll never, ever, ever forget his demeanor. He was very matter-of-fact. He told me I had breast cancer, and the word he used was that it was ‘nasty.’”
Stunned, Regina started walking back to the lab. She passed by the office of a pathologist she worked with, and asked him if she could come in and sit down for a moment.
“He asked me what was wrong, and I told him,” Regina said. “That was a Wednesday, and he called my doctor and the radiologist, and then called and got my biopsy scheduled for Friday. I didn’t have to do anything but sit and listen – he gave me a sense of calm.”
Regina ended up having two surgeries to remove cancerous tissue, along with radiation to kill remaining cancer cells. Because tests showed her tumor was estrogen-fed, she takes medication to reduce her estrogen levels to help prevent a recurrence.
“Everyone here went above and beyond anything I could hope for. The doctors, pathologists, surgery team – I never had to worry about anything relative to my care. If I had a question, I knew someone would have an answer,” she said. “I just celebrated my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free, and I’m so grateful for my Regional One Health family and my care team.”
For Regina, overcoming breast cancer means many things.
First and foremost, it means more time with her three grown children. “I had my third child at age 42, so I always knew I was going to be one of the older parents. I knew I might be the oldest baseball mom on the team, but I was going to be there!” she said.
“He was 15 when I was diagnosed, so it was rewarding to be able to continue to watch him play baseball and become an adult. I get to be here to see him grow up and see his accomplishments.”
Becoming a breast cancer survivor has also introduced Regina to a second family. “There is a true sisterhood in the breast cancer community,” she said. “We support each other. We feel empowered: you survived it, so you have the opportunity to help others.”
For Regina, that means encouraging more women to do exactly what she did on that fateful day five years ago, when she used her lunch break to play a role in saving her own life.
“You never think it will happen until someone says, ‘You have cancer,’ and your life flashes in front of you – what you should have done, could have done, would have done,” she said. “I have my whole life ahead of me to do those things because I decided to get a mammogram. Please, please have your mammograms. It’s just a few minutes of discomfort in exchange for a lifetime.”
Regional One Health offers easy access and the best available technology for mammograms.
All mammograms use the latest 3-D technology and are read by a breast certified radiologist. Patients receive their results and any additional testing promptly.