PERU - When many were spreading the word about Breast Cancer Awareness Month last October, Heidi Williams was given words that took her by surprise.
"That's when I was diagnosed with breast cancer," she said.
Through a free preventative screening provided by the New York State Cancer Services Program of Clinton County, Williams was found to have "ductal carcinoma in situ," one of the most common types of noninvasive breast cancer. The cancer, which starts inside the milk ducts, is considered noninvasive because it hasn't yet spread to any surrounding breast tissue. However, in a matter of weeks, when Williams was undergoing a bilateral mastectomy to stave off the cancer, the seemingly nonlife-threatening condition began to take a more serious turn.
"The difference with mine is when I did my surgery in December, they actually found stage one invasive cancer in the pathology report that they had to do," she said.
Williams began chemotherapy following her surgery in order to eradicate the disease, and is currently waiting to begin her third of four rounds of the treatment. So far, Williams said her body seems to be reacting relatively well to the chemotherapy. "It does make you tired, though," she said. "It's really tough."
Williams' condition has left her unable to return to her job as a substitute teacher for the time being, which she had been doing for a little more than six months after she graduated from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh last May.
"I've had to put all that on hold because, physically, I'm not strong enough. I don't have the stamina," said Williams, who had been substituting in the Peru, Saranac, AuSable Valley and Northern Adirondack central school districts.
Though Williams is on the road to recovery, the 36-year-old said she believes she wouldn't be in as good a situation as she is if not for the New York State Cancer Services Program of Clinton County.
"It really was a godsend for me because the insurance we had at the time wouldn't cover my initial exam because I wasn't a certain age," said Williams.
The state-funded program, she said, which is traditionally open to women age 40 or older, was made available to her because of her family history of cancer, which included her mother and sister both being diagnosed within the last five years.
"Most of our family who have had it have been postmenopausal," said Williams. "My sister was diagnosed at 39 and I'm 36. So, for us to be so young to be diagnosed with it was a little scary, since we both have children at home."
"I just think, if I had waited another four years, what would've happened," she added. "Fortunately we have [the cancer services program]. There's not a lot of funds, but they pay up through the pathology results of your biopsy. From there, if you don't have insurance, they have other programs you have to shift into."
Williams said she encourages others to look into the free screening program. It's a decision that could make all the difference, she said.
"If you have a family history, it's very important you get screened," said Williams. "Mine was found strictly through screening. I could not have found mine by doing self-exams or anything like that because of the kind of cancer I was diagnosed with. You have to be vigilant and get screened."
For more information about the New York State Cancer Services Program of Clinton County, contact the Clinton County Health Department at 562-7112.
Benefit this Saturday
to help Williams
PERU - The Peru Volunteer Fire Department will host a benefit this Saturday, March 5, to assist Williams - a member of the department auxiliary - with expenses related to her treatment for breast cancer.
The event will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. at the fire department, 753 Bear Swamp Road, and consist of a Chinese auction, 50-50 raffle, and spaghetti dinner. The cost of the dinner will be $5, with deliveries available to Peru Fire District by calling 420-3641 or 643-9271.
Those unable to attend but who would still like to make a donation to Williams may do so by sending them in care of the department to P.O. Box 635, Peru N.Y. 12972.
For more information, visit www.pfd27.com.