Life was moving along at the usual pace for Anne Principe in 2009 - jam packed and going quickly as the single mother was busy raising her two children and working as a home-based marketing freelancer. Her life resembled that of any mother managing a career and a family, or at least it did until she finally went for that mammogram she had been putting off for three years that May.
Principe had not felt anything abnormal when she walked into the doctor's office for the mammogram, a procedure commonly performed once a year for women over 40. But by the time she walked out of the doctor's office, her entire life had changed. The mammogram had detected a pea-sized tumor, and a few days later a biopsy confirmed she had breast cancer. That news would send every aspect of her life into a wild tail-spin for the next six months, leaving the then 47-year-old Principe struggling to find a way to keep from losing her house while at the same time, she was losing every strand of hair on her head.
"I had been neglecting my mammogram schedule," Principe said. "I started having them when I was 40 and had them every year like I was supposed to, but then I started commuting to Atlanta for my job. I knew I needed to do it; it was on my list to do, and I made all my appointments as my severance package was running out."
The severance package was from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, where Principe had worked for 18 years before taking a voluntary layoff, and her health benefits under that package ran out the Friday before the fated mammogram on Monday. Luckily, she was able to transfer her benefits to COBRA, but the expense of treating cancer shocked Principe and her financial stability. She had a mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and four rounds of chemotherapy within six months of her diagnosis and even today, she is still feeling the aftershocks of the financial storm the cancer created.
Unable to able to work during the chemo, she found some relief from a cancer policy a friend sold her more than 20 years ago that provided around $12,000 to help off-set some of the mounting expenses. She liquidated her 401K, modified her mortgage and traded in her car, using the little bit of equity she had in it to buy a cheaper model.
It would be six months into recovery before she felt it was time to re-enter the work force. She heard about a job opening in the Rockdale Public School System and remembers thinking to herself how perfect it would to work near her home and her children's schools. She was hired for the public relations job in October of 2010 and is thankful for the stability she has found and for her health.
"I feel like it is my mission to share my story because I just want to tell everybody to tell everybody to have a mammogram," Principe said. "Have your annual mammogram, have a buddy system where you make sure they do theirs and they make sure you do yours."
The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 226,870 new cases of breast cancer in 2012 with an estimated 39,500 women expected to die from the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, mammography is the "single most effective method of early detection since it can identify cancer several years before physical symptoms develop." Under the 2011 Affordable Care Act, Medicare and all new health insurance plans are required to fully cover screening mammograms without any out-of-pocket expense for patients. Both the American Cancer Society and the CDC can help women locate free and low-cost mammograms offered in their communities at cancer.org and health.state.ga.us/programs/bccp/index.asp.
Though she is now cancer-free, Principe's journey did not end with her last treatment in 2009. She continues taking Tamoxifen, a drug commonly prescribed to block the actions of estrogen and reduce the chance of reoccurrence, to complete a five-year cycle and she has alternating MRIs and mammograms every six months while also visiting an oncologist every three to four months.
"I have had a lot of support from my family, our church and the school community," Principe said.