Local breast cancer survivor shares journey, "Don't skip mammograms"

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ROANOKE (WSLS10)-- Breast cancer is a disease that will affect 1 in 8 women in their lifetime. That's why Susan G. Komen has announced a huge mission-- to reduce the current number of breast cancer deaths by 50% within the next decade. To reach that goal, there will be intensive research and improved quality care for all women during their journey to fight breast cancer.

Tam Roop is cancer free after being diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2015. She says the diagnosis came as a surprise, since she had no history of breast cancer in her family and had always had perfect mammograms. Experts say that's how it often happens though-- about 75% of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history of the disease.

She says she started skipping her mammogram checkups and hadn't had one in four years before her diagnosis last summer. A few years ago, some experts began recommending mammograms every other year for women over age 40-- but many have reversed course. Specialists at Carilion emphasized the importance of getting those mammograms and checkups every single year.

It's something Tam says she wishes she has done-- and urges women not to skip those yearly visits, which can catch the cancer or other issues at the very early stages.

"I don't want to create fear," she says. "But I do want to create awareness. Just because you're young, doesn't mean it can't happen. It's important for younger women to get mammograms as it is for older."

For those young women who have a history of breast cancer in their families-- doctors recommend starting screenings ten years earlier than their family history. For example, if your mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40, you should begin yearly screenings when you turn 30.

After her diagnosis, Tam told several close friends who attended doctors appointments and other treatments with her. They helped keep track of the information she needed to make decisions about future treatments.

Tam says although the diagnosis was hard, she's worked each day since then to stay positive.

"It takes courage. It takes self awareness," says Tam. "It's definitely an up and down of an emotional journey. There's a lot of positive that comes out of it though, a lot of silver linings. You learn how strong you are. You learn your support group-- and how many people will support you."

She says attending local breast cancer support groups has helped as well. She's been able to form close bonds to other women with similar experiences. She says that's also where she got a lot of information about breast cancer and treatments-- information that made her feel more comfortable emotionally as she began her own treatment.