Gail’s Story: A routine screening saved her life

Gail Fry

It was a simple recommendation from her doctor: a routine screening, ahead of schedule. But Gail Fry is convinced that it saved her life.

Mrs. Fry, a teacher in the Fresno Unified School District, was in for her annual exam when her doctor made the request. “Get a mammogram,” the doctor advised.

To Gail, the request was early and a little unexpected. “When my doctor suggested I get a ‘baseline mammogram’ when I was 35, my friends and I made jokes about it. I had no family history of breast cancer, and there were no symptoms. I thought 35 was too young,” Gail recalled. “But my doctor recommended it, and I’m not a person who puts things off.”

What happened next turned the world upside-down for Gail and her family.

“I had breast cancer. At 35,” Gail said. “Without that mammogram, I wouldn’t have made it to 40.”

Beginning with the information from her mammogram, Gail was diagnosed as having Stage 2B breast cancer. There were no symptoms, no other indications, and according to Gail, without the mammogram “it wouldn’t have been detected any other way.” What’s worse, her otherwise-undetectable cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes.

The treatment was not easy. Two surgeries, six rounds of chemotherapy, 33 days of radiation, and “more lab work than I possibly could ever think of,” Gail said. Her insurance, through the Fresno Unified School District’s Employee Benefits Plan, covered it all, including reconstructive surgery and follow-up care down the road.

“I’d describe my health today as ‘good,’” Gail said. “I go to the doctor a lot more, and I continue with a couple of medications. My doctors tell me it takes about five years to get back to normal, and I’m getting there.”

When asked why so many people don’t get their annual screenings — especially when the FUSD Employee Benefits Plan covers and encourages such routine screenings – Gail said she believes there are two factors involved.

“First, I think people are scared,” she said. “The truth is if a test comes out positive, catching it early makes it much easier to treat, and much less painful for you and your for your loved ones.” Gail’s doctors said that by detecting such cancers early -– at Stage 1 or Stage 2 – the survival rate is 98 percent. Detecting and treating such cancers early means getting those routine screenings.

But Gail believes there’s a second reason why people don’t take advantage of the FUSD’s routine screening health benefit: They simply don’t want to take the time.

For them, Gail has a clear message: “Everybody needs to get their screenings,” she said. “We have the benefit. Use it. It takes an hour. And it saved my life.”

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