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Gainesville woman and breast cancer survivor encourages women to get mammograms
Lavonda Morrison's family has a history of disease in male and female relatives
Lavonda Morrison talks about her cancer diagnosis while at her Gainesville home Sept. 22. Morrison received three months of chemotherapy from Dr. Richard Locicero at Longstreet Cancer Center, but was able to avoid radiation because her cancer was caught so early. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Breast cancer glossary

Bilateral or double mastectomy: surgery to remove all or part of the breast and sometimes other tissue.

Chemotherapy: Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells

Mammogram: An X-ray of the breast; a method of finding breast cancer that can’t be felt using the fingers.

Radiation: In reference to cancer, the two main types are ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. The high-energy rays used for X-rays and some other imaging tests, as well as in higher doses for cancer treatment, are called ionizing radiation. This type of radiation can be produced by medical devices, but also comes from natural sources such as radon gas (in the ground) and outer space.

Reconstructive surgery: rebuilding or replacing removed or injured body parts such as breasts.

Ultrasound: imaging test in which high-frequency sound waves are used to make pictures of the inside of the body. The sound wave echoes are picked up and displayed on a computer screen.

Lavonda Morrison wanted to cancel her appointment.

She woke one spring morning two years ago and nearly picked up the phone to cancel her routine mammogram. But she thought better of it.

“It was just a simple mammogram,” Morrison said. “I almost backed out that morning. I’m glad I didn’t.”

Morrison was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in 2014. After a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery, the 2 1/2-year survivor wants to encourage other women to get their routine mammograms.

Morrison, at 49, was no stranger to breast cancer. Two of her cousins had it. One lost her life to it. Even her grandfather and his brother had breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society website, about 246,660 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in 2016. In the same year, 2,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in men.

“They found it on the mammogram and sent me back for an ultrasound to confirm it,” she said. “I went to Dr. (James) Butts, who did a biopsy. They’d done a double mastectomy, because there’s so much of it in my family.”

Morrison received three months of chemotherapy from Dr. Richard Locicero at Longstreet Cancer Center, but was able to avoid radiation because her cancer was caught so early. Dr. Ed Abell from the Aesthetic Center of Gainesville and Braselton did her reconstructive surgery.

“I want to mention all three of my doctors, because they were all precious and good to me,” she said.

Morrison said her younger daughter, Kristin, now 21, was her primary caregiver during her treatment. Kristin works at the Wal-Mart in Gainesville, and Lavonda said she was grateful the store was flexible and understanding during that time.

“She was there for everything,” Lavonda said. “She took me to all my appointments, all my chemo treatments. Her work was really good about letting her off, because one of the managers’ wives had cancer, too. He knew what she was going through.”

The surprisingly hard part of her own treatment was losing her hair. Lavonda said it was not because she cared how she looked, but because of how her family, particularly her five grandchildren, would feel seeing her bald.

“It was the little ones wondering, ‘Why’s Nana got her hair cut?’” she said.

But Lavonda said the hardest part was and continues to be the worry that her daughters and granddaughters could go through it themselves one day.

But her daughters, Kristin and 28-year-old Alicia, as well as her sister are proactive. They all have regular tests, because of the high occurrence rate in their family.

Lavonda is a regular in the doctor’s office, too. She has scans every four months. Her last scan in September came back clear.

The whole family — her husband, Earl; her son, Dwight; and both her daughters — have been supportive through the battle. Her daughters each had the breast cancer ribbon tattooed on their legs in the years since, to support their mother.

Kristin’s tattoo has deer antlers around the ribbon and reads “Save a rack.”

But Lavonda reiterated the importance of, not just women who have cancer in their families, but all women routinely checking for it.

“Early detection is the key to it,” she said. “I don’t think I would have done as good as I have, if it hadn’t been for that and all my family and friends, and all these grandbabies.”