The annual Miles for Mammograms 5K Run and 2K Fun Walk/”Outlaw Dash” will be held on Sept. 23. For the fourth year, Family Healthcare Clinic is joining forces with the Western Heritage Weekend event in Dewey. The funds raised by the event support FHC's free mammogram program.

This year's starting pistol will fire for the “Outlaw Dash” on West Don Tyler in Dewey, between the Tom Mix Museum and historic Dewey Hotel.

The funds from the annual event directly provide free mammogram screenings to women in the community who need them yet, find them unaffordable. Each year up to 12 women who take advantage of this program discover serious, often life-threatening, medical concerns that would have gone undetected without this program. One such woman is Laurie Martinez, who credits Family Healthcare Clinic with saving her life.

Every year, Miles for Mammograms honors a special person from the community who personifies the very heart of its cause. At just four months past her last round of chemotherapy, Martinez has agreed to serve as the community's 2017 face of breast cancer prevention efforts by taking on this role.

Laurie's story

In January of 2016, this young mother to two young children happened to notice something about her body that seemed out of the ordinary for her. She was immediately concerned that this may indicate something very serious and soon decided to discuss it with a couple family members. She also talked to a friend in the community who is a nurse. This friend told her about the free mammogram program available at Family Healthcare Clinic of Bartlesville.

Laurie called Family Healthcare and an appointment was scheduled promptly. Laurie, accompanied by her husband Michael, explained her concern to the medical staff. FHC staff conducted an exam and agreed that despite her young age of only 29, further tests were warranted. They explained that very possibly it was nothing more than a clogged milk gland as she was still breast feeding her six-month-old son.

This possibility made Laurie and Michael feel more at ease. And so, when they learned that, due to a cancellation, a mammogram appointment was available the very next day, they decided that Laurie would keep that appointment unaccompanied by a friend or family member. Laurie remembers that she didn't even tell her mother, Molly Harmon, even though it was necessary to borrow her vehicle in order to drive herself to the mammogram appointment. Laurie's father had died of cancer just a few years ago, and the grief was still fresh for herself, her mother and sibling, Katie. Laurie did not want to worry her mother.

And so, Laurie went to the mammogram appointment alone. There she was told that because she is so very young, that she should first have an ultrasound. Laurie gave her consent. Now regretting her decision to come to this appointment alone, she sensed that this was in fact, more serious than a clogged milk gland. And indeed the doctor showed Laurie the mass on the reading and said those dreaded words, “I'm pretty sure that you have breast cancer”! After the ultrasound, Laurie was screened via a mammogram, which did reveal a suspicious lump.

Laurie was encouraged to call her husband without delay. She also called her mother's place of employment in an attempt to get in touch with her as quickly as possible. Simultaneously, personnel of the radiology department at Jane Phillips Medical Center called the medical staff at Family Healthcare Clinic to relay the bad news. In turn, FHC medical staff promptly called Laurie to request that she immediately come back into FHC with her family members for further consultation.

Michael recalls Laurie's call that day and that his most immediate emotion was anger. He knew that Laurie had already lost a 4-year-old brother due to a brain tumor. He had already watched what she went through while her father was dying of cancer. Although he says he caught himself asking “why,” he still never felt mad at God. He did feel clueless, helpless and very emotional. “Why couldn't it have happened to me instead of her?”

Michael explains that he was fully aware of how serious this diagnosis could possibly be. “Yet I wasn't worried or frightened. I was mostly sad at what I knew Laurie was going to have to go through. I had faith in God, knowing that he would take care of it.” Michael explained further that although he doesn't consider himself a “control freak,” throughout life he has rarely found himself in a position where he felt he had no power over the outcome. “I was not sure what to say, except, 'it's going to be okay.' I never thought it would not be okay. We've been together for over nine years, but we'd never been through anything this up close and personal!”

The staff at Family Healthcare Clinic helped Laurie and Michael with the necessary paperwork for continued follow-up through Oklahoma Cares, an Oklahoma Health Care Authority program which provides Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection to women who meet income qualifications and needed diagnostics or treatment but who have no health insurance to help pay for the needed medical care. Laurie qualified in part due to the fact that Michael had lost a job three months prior.

Michael remembers the many negative aspects of losing his job, yet how in retrospect, if that had not occurred their income level may have kept Laurie from qualifying for this critically needed service. Laurie was warned that in some instances it can take up to a month to get qualified for BCCED.

Laurie was relentless in calling the breast surgeon's office daily, recognizing that she couldn't be seen without financial coverage. She recalls that the surgeon's appointment schedule was very full and so she was surprised when she got an appointment within just a few days and over the surgeon's normal lunch hour. Even though she was already 95 percent sure, when she got the call two days later, that it was indeed stage 2 breast cancer — invasive ductal carcinoma — it was an emotional time. She recalls that the specialist was helpful and even prayed with them, but was also very blunt and did not sugar coat the bad news, saying “I want you to know that you might not live through this.” The specialist also really advocated for them regarding coverage of costs and the complexities of navigating the medical system.

Laurie's appointment with oncology was scheduled for the very next week. Her MRI was completed and a port was put in place within a few days following. She then began chemotherapy treatment as an outpatient. She endured this 2-6 hour procedure every two weeks for two months, then weekly for 12 weeks and finally every 3 weeks for 8 months.

In March of 2017 Laurie's Facebook post was this:

“I'm currently receiving my last chemo, hopefully, ever!! It's exciting but scary at the same time. I am very thankful for nurses and doctors who have had my best interests at heart. Thank you, God, for taking care and providing for my family and me. And thank you to every person who prayed and helped us in any way the past 15 months. We couldn't have done any of this without you all. Please continue to keep us in your prayers that the cancer will stay far away and that my anxiety won't get the best of me. My prayer is that one day no one will ever have to hear the word cancer again. I'm so happy that I am able to continue to watch my kids grow and enjoy life with Michael. I love them with all of my heart. Hope you all have a blessed day.”

During it all Laurie says that she tended to beat herself up as she could not hold her baby normally like she wanted to. She felt she was cheating little Ezra. It was also hard being a mom to 3-year-old Naomi. “It's hard being a mom when you don't feel good. But I still went to their friend's birthday parties and other important events.”

At just age 30, Laurie had a radical mastectomy, with reconstruction done during the same procedure. She recalls how scary this decision was, but with the support of her specialist, she made this very difficult choice. Laurie experienced a six-hour surgery and a high level of pain to follow.

Laurie expressed her gratitude to her husband Michael, describing him as extremely supportive. “He never made me feel ugly about losing my hair. He never put an emphasis on looks and never made me feel unattractive. He was very compassionate and willing to care for me at an intimate level.”

Michael explains that he gained new employment shortly after Laurie was diagnosed and continued to work all through this grueling life experience. “We had a lot of help from friends and family. We're especially grateful to my mother who stayed with us for months at a time and to my mother-in-law who helped faithfully also. But when I was home from work I was a major player in caring for the children.” He lightheartedly remarked that he would dress the kids in whatever she (Laurie) told him they could wear.

When asked about the most significant trauma she experienced, Laurie replied quickly, “Losing my hair was so hard! That was definitely the biggest trauma … kids in stores, extra stares. It's very hard to be different.” Laurie decided not to do a wig but expressed gratitude to Bartlesville Southern Baptist, who hosted a “hat party” for her. She expressed her amazement at how people show up to help when you're in need. “People brought meals, gave us money and prayed for us. I knew I had friends, but you do really learn who your friends are! When faced with a crisis, yes, cancer is scary, but it also brought out the best in me.”

And so, this indeed is why Family Healthcare Clinic runs. For more information, to register to run or walk, to donate by “Sleepin' In” or to volunteer for the event, visit www.milesformammograms.org, visit Family Healthcare Clinic at 1820 W. Hensley Blvd. in Bartlesville or call 918-336-4822.

— Submitted by Patricia Leach, director, Family Healthcare Clinic