When breast cancer patients arrive for radiation treatments, they are sometimes filled with fear and sadness, or great hope and faith. Most of them don’t know they have a friend nearby who understands those feelings on a personal level.

Wilma Cason, 74, is a department assistant at the Thompson Comprehensive Breast Center, a department of Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center. She is also a two-time breast cancer survivor.

Cason’s first cancer diagnosis was in 2003. “I’d had my mammogram in April of that year but I felt my lump in October,” says Cason, who encourages women to do breast self-exams regularly.

Finding that lump between mammograms caught her cancer early, and with the help of Thompson Cancer Survival Center and Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, she stopped it in its tracks.

Cason underwent a partial mastectomy (lumpectomy), chemotherapy and radiation. Then early in 2020, a mammogram at Thompson Comprehensive Breast Center revealed a small spot in her breast. The certified technologists at Thompson perform more than 13,000 mammograms each year using the latest in digital technology, including digital 3D mammography. This helps detect small cancers in early stages when they’re more treatable.

Dr. Michael Kropilak of Premier Surgical Fort Sanders

After a biopsy confirmed it was cancer, a special medical team went to work. Cason’s surgeon, Michael Kropilak, MD, of Premier Surgical Fort Sanders, is part of a “breast conference” that formulates a personalized plan for each patient.

“We have a radiologist, medical oncologist, surgeon and radiation oncologist – we have multiple doctors,” Dr. Kropilak says. “We meet once a week and we discuss treatment.”

Dr. Kropilak says bringing together multiple medical professionals who are involved in the care of the patient can ensure informed decisions and help the patient get the best treatment possible.

Having those informed decisions was especially important for Cason, because of her age and her cancer history. After some chemotherapy, Cason underwent a double mastectomy.

Cason says the most important thing she can share with breast cancer patients is the importance of being optimistic. “Besides God, that’s the thing that got me through it — having a positive attitude about it.”

With her cancer behind her, Cason is back at work and spreading that positive attitude everywhere she goes. “I think God put me there because I understand what the patients are going through,” Cason says. “I’m blessed to live this long.”

Cancer may have hit her with a double punch, but having conquered it each time she can also consider herself to be a woman who is twice blessed.