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This Arkansas woman's late journey with breast cancer

Mary Robertson was in good health at 69 years old. She remembers receiving her yearly mammogram reminder before being diagnosed with the surprising news.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Before she retired, Mary Robertson spent much of her career in hospital administration.

She credits that ability to stay on top of whatever her tasks may be, as one of the traits that possibly saving her life.

"I am a very practical person. Very matter of fact. I am a rule follower," Mary said. 

Mary and her husband Roby are preparing to celebrate 50 years together after first meeting in college. 

They have a daughter who lives only hours away with their pride and joy – her grandson, Gabriel. 

The couple had plans to visit - back in June of 2020. That's about the time when Mary received her yearly reminder for her mammogram in the mail.

During that period, the pandemic was reaching its peak – so practicality aside, Mary put that same letter in a drawer.

"I’m just going to put this in the drawer, and I’ll just see it later. I did see it later, toward the end of July. I thought, 'huh, maybe I should call now,'" Mary said.

At 69 years old, and no risk factors, she didn't expect much.

"I got the call on Monday in St. Louis. I think it was the radiologist. He said this is not a call I like to make. I was told they found something. They will not know what it is unless they go in," Mary said.

After a second screening, and two weeks of waiting, Mary finally learned that the 'something' was stage one breast cancer.

Her surgeon was Dr. Daniela Ochoa from the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.  

"The procedure in that scenario was a lumpectomy combined with a sentinel lymph node biopsy." Dr. Ochoa said of Mary's operation.

Dr. Ochoa said that she's often asked about age and when someone can stop annual checkups. 

"It's not necessarily a strict age cut off. If somebody's otherwise still functional and in good health and doing well, it is recommended to continue doing them," she said. "Post-menopausal age ranges are where we're at the highest risk of breast cancer."

As for Mary, she is doing well and going on two years of being cancer-free.

She'll celebrate her birthday soon on Nov. 16, where she's feeling great as she turns 72.

Her advice to other women is about that letter in the mail.  

“Open that drawer up. Read that letter again. Many times we, and I’ll speak for all women, we don't take care of ourselves. We put other people first and that's okay. But you have got to take care of yourself," Mary said.


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