‘You really think it could never happen to you’: Local advocate pushes for early breast cancer screenings

ALLEGHANY COUNTY, Va. – One breast cancer advocate in the Alleghany Highlands is sharing her story and stressing the importance of early life-changing screenings.

At 42 years old, Summer Pullin is loving life – she’s a respiratory therapist at LewisGale Hospital Alleghany and has four beautiful children.

“My oldest is 18 and my youngest is nine. So I feel like any time that you can buy to remain above ground is a beautiful thing,” said Pullin.

Pullin first found a lump in her breast when she was just 28 years old. Over the next decade, she got countless biopsies, ultrasounds, mammograms, and genetic tests that came back negative. In the fall of 2020, her doctor told her she was at an extremely high risk of developing breast cancer.

“My risk of developing breast cancer was at 40 percent. The high-risk rate is 20 percent, so I was double the high-risk rate,” said Pullin.

In January 2021, Pullin had a preventative double mastectomy. Then in June of that year, she had reconstruction surgery.

“I can’t say that that was an easy process because, for a woman, that’s not an easy process. But I would do it all over again,” said Pullin.

It’s not the first time cancer has impacted her family. Pullin’s mother, Priscilla, was diagnosed with cancer in 2004.

“Initially we were told that it was gastroesophageal cancer,” said Pullin.

But seven years later, doctors discovered it was breast cancer.

“It had gone undetected,” said Pullin. “It was in stage four when it was diagnosed.”

In 2013, after a nine-year battle, Priscilla passed away at 54 years old.

“She was a bright light in a very dark world. And it was very difficult to lose her. And I did not want my children to endure the hardship that my brother and my father and I did in watching my mother succumb to cancer,” said Pullin. “So I felt like the double mastectomy would be my saving grace in that. And so, I’m very thankful that I did it.”

Pullin now only has a 1.8 percent chance of getting breast cancer. She is continuing to encourage other women to take control of their health by getting screened early and often.

“There’s always a first in every family. And until you’ve actually had someone that you love diagnosed with cancer, you really think that it could never happen to you,” said Pullin.

LewisGale Hospital Alleghany has state-of-the-art technology that can help women and men detect breast cancer sooner.

The mammogram equipment can take 3D and contrast images. This comes in handy for screening dense breast tissue, which can be very difficult to detect cancer.

The procedure only takes 10 minutes and early detection can make a huge difference in a patient’s outcome.

“It’s just such a simple thing to do that can save you a lot of time and money and test treatments,” said Angie Kimberlin, a radiologic technologist.

LewisGale offers 24/7 online scheduling for mammograms. You can schedule a mammogram here.

About the Author

You can watch Lindsey during Virginia Today every weekend or as a reporter during the week!

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