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Breast cancer survivor Shelby Guettich finds strength in support group

Breast cancer survivor Shelby Guettich
Kari Dequine Harden

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Three months after getting an “all clear” on her annual mammogram in 2015, Steamboat Springs resident Shelby Guettich felt a lump in her breast. It wasn’t hard, but it was a lump that seemed to be growing. She thought it might be leftover scar tissue from an infected milk duct she had removed years before.

It took her several weeks to call the doctor. Guettich didn’t want to take any chances. Then it took several more weeks to get an appointment for another screening.

In order to have it covered by insurance — because she’d already had her annual mammogram — Guettich had to schedule an additional appointment to first obtain a diagnostic prescription.

Finally, she was able to get another mammogram, an ultrasound and an MRI. Doctors also took a needlepoint biopsy.

It was a rare form of breast cancer that can be difficult to see on a mammogram — Invasive Lobular Carcinoma.

“It’s more like a milky way of cancer cells,” Guettich described. “It wasn’t until I got an MRI that showed it was all over.”

The type of cancer and Stage 3 diagnosis ruled out a lumpectomy.

It was only in one breast, so Guettich had a unilateral mastectomy.

Then she had to go through chemotherapy and radiation.

“The chemo was the roughest,” she said.

Today, Guettich passed her five-year mark and is cancer free. One nurse used the word “cured.”

“I love the sound of that,” she said. More than words like “in remission.”

She has had to take an estrogen blocker and had no idea what that was going to do to her body. Guettich said she would tell her doctor “I’m an emotional wreck — I cry all the time.”

However the doctor was really only interested in any physical symptoms, she said.

Reconstruction

Guettich decided to have reconstruction surgery. It’s been a rough road, she said. After the first surgery, she “never got the pain under control.”

She went to a different plastic surgeon for a consult. One was bigger, and they were different shapes. One felt hard. She tried yet another plastic surgeon and had a “lift.”

But that didn’t have the desired results.

Consulting with a fourth plastic surgeon, Guettich is now looking at another surgery to fix the reconstruction, using the fat from her own body.

That means getting both implants out and another surgery, which will borrow fat from her stomach.


“If that doesn’t work then I will go flat,” she said. But she’s not ready for that quite yet. “For a woman it’s a really scary thing,” she said.

Looking forward

In 2017, Guettich started a local support group for women diagnosed with breast cancer.

“There just wasn’t anything out there,” she said. “No one knows what it’s like until you go through it.”

They stopped meeting as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she’s hoping to resume the group virtually. Whether meeting with one other woman or a group of five, Guettich said it helps to share stories and make those connections in an informal setting.

From diagnosis to surgery to decisions about reconstruction, “Everything happens so fast,” Guettich said.

She advises other women take the time (even though there isn’t much time) to be proactive about their care, learn as much as they can, ask questions and make sure they get referrals and find the right doctors.

Guettich also advises women be aware of “anything in your breast that changes” and “go get it checked out right away.”

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.


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