Early detection saved my life

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You're never prepared to hear something like what a doctor told us, that you have cancer

The Camacho name is familiar to hundreds of people in the Quincy area.

Ginny and Mario Camacho have taught generations of students at

Quincy Notre Dame High School

. But the most important lesson they have learned deals with family history and cancer. It's a lesson that became a lifesaver.

"I've survived now, for, it'll be five years in August since I was diagnosed," Ginny said.

Looking through a scrapbook of family photos, Ginny pointed to the long line of cancer victims in her family.

"My grandmother Stella, she died very young, died of breast cancer."

Very few in the photos are still living.

"We've had a

genetic counselor

tell us that we have a familial gene, It's not the bracka gene, but it's the mutated familial gene," Ginny said. You can find more on genetic counseling



That gene is what kept Ginny going back to the doctor every year for check-ups.

"My journey with breast cancer began in 2007. I was having my yearly routine mammogram, and I got a little bit of a scare, because this new digital mammography had picked up something they'd never seen before. I've been having mammograms since I was 40," Ginny said.

A biopsy and a couple days later, Ginny was diagnosed with cancer.

"I never thought it would happen. But when it did, I was prepared in a sense because of [my family history], but I don't think that Mario and my children....I didn't prepare them for this," Ginny said.

"In my mind, I was thinking, 'these things do happen, but not to the people I love.' So I don't think people can say that you are ever prepared to hear something like what a doctor told us, that you have cancer," Mario said. "Don't give in. You've got to fight. You as an individual. As husband and wife."

When Ginny began to lose her hair during chemo and radiation, Mario asked if she'd feel better if he buzzed his hair. "Then we'd both be bald," he joked. But Ginny said she'd be the only one. She gave Mario the scissors.

"There are a lot of things in my life that have been fairly hard. That was one of them. When I cut her hair off, what was left, the little nubs," Mario said.

"For me, that was the least difficult part of all of this. When I went into the bathroom to see how I looked, it was a little startling, but when I walked out, my daughter met me with the words, you still look like you."

You still look like you became the headline of Ginny's blog for the next couple of years, detailing her battle with cancer and showing support for others fighting the same fight.

During her battle with cancer, Ginny scheduled her surgery with a surgeon in Quincy, Dr. Christian Zwick, who coincidentally was a former QND student of hers. Ginny's been cancer free ever since.

Nowadays, Ginny visits with a cancer support group at Blessing Hospital once a month that she calls the Breast Cancer Party Ladies.

"I can't tell you that I never think of it anymore, because each time you have something new or different, a little bump here, a little twinge there, your mind does go there if you've had cancer," Ginny said.

On the same day Ginny and Mario sat down to share their story, their daughter, Carrie, 36, went in for her first mammogram and was given the all clear.

"I think it's great," Ginny smiled. "Doctor appointments are necessary and check-ups are necessary. The best thing that I can say that came from this is, more fully alive," Ginny said.

I would've had cancer and not known it, until it would've been too late

It was an employer in Keokuk that saved Vic Davis' life.

"Once a year, they do a physical exam for us and it's free. So, they found out my PSA reading was a 4.2," Davis said, who had never had any


of anything abnormal.

PSA is a protein produced by the prostate and released in very small amounts into the bloodstream. When thereâ??s a problem with the prostateâ??like the development and growth of prostate cancerâ??more and more PSA is released. It eventually reaches a level where it can be easily detected in the blood. According to the

Prostate Cancer Foundation

, during a PSA test, a small amount of blood is drawn from the arm, and the level of PSA is measured. Levels under 4 are usually considered normal, but it's important to note that 12 percent of men with a normal PSA have cancer, making it more important to look at the trend.

"Instead of waiting another year, Dr. Martin said to come again in 6 months. Then it went up to 4.3. So we did another one in 6 months and then it went up to 5.1. And he suggested I have a biopsy done," Davis said.

Doctors took the biopsy in July of 2011.

"When you get told you have cancer, what's your first thought?--Well, get it out," Davis said. "Because I have grandchildren and a family, so it wasn't only for me but them too. You have to think about other people."

Within days, Davis scheduled surgery in Iowa City. Soon after, doctors biopsied the cancer mass once it was removed.

"They found out it was getting ready to rupture. And [my doctor] said if I'd had




, my chance of survival would be pretty slim. But he said he caught it before it ruptured into my vital organs," Davis said.

When it comes to early detection, "it's very important," Davis said. Davis says he owes his life to the company's screening day. To find what necessary screenings you should be tested for, click



"I probably wouldn't have had it checked. I would've had cancer and not known it, until it would've been too late, I guess," Davis said.

If I hadn't found it myself, I wouldn't have had an exam till I was at least 40

"My twin boys were two, and my daughter was 4 when I found out I was diagnosed with cancer. It really took a toll on the whole family," Lisa Weeks, a paramedic in Warsaw said.

Weeks says her family is no stranger to cancer, which is why she opted to start yearly mammograms when she was just 30.

"You don't think about it all when you're 30," weeks said. "But when you do find a lump in your breast, obviously, it scares you. I was only 32 when I found it. They usually don't recommend mammograms until you're 40, so I was doing self examinations because my doctor suggested I do them every month. I found a lump and called my doctor that day, and he said to come on in. He set me up for some tests. Basically, they diagnosed me within a week."

Weeks opted for a


, taking out only the tumor and surrounding tissue in her breast, rather than a


, a surgical procedure that would remove one or both breasts.

"It'll be 4 years this June," Weeks said, smiling.

What should you look/feel for during a self exam? Find out



"If I hadn't been doing the self exams, there's no telling if I'd even be here today. I wouldn't have made it to 40 without the treatments I'd been through. I went through chemo and radiation, but if I hadn't found it myself, I wouldn't have had an exam till I was at least 40," Weeks said.

Weeks says she's now made it a goal to educate her friends and family about the importance of getting proactive with your body, learning the signs and symptoms and making the call to your doctor.

"My friends all do their self exams now because of me. Everybody that's had cancer, once you get through it and you've survived, you want to help other people get through it because you know the struggles they're going through."

I was very scared and reluctant to ever have a colonoscopy

"I couldn't keep food down. I had started to lose weight and I had really bad stomach pain. I ended up in the emergency room," Becky Winters, from Hannibal said.

"I was having some issues, like blood in my stool and other things, and I called my doctor and he informed me it was something else, hemorrhoids, and he'd given me medicine for that. But it steadily and quickly got worse," Steve Cress, from Quincy said.

Then, one day, Steve read a pamphlet on Colon Awareness Month that detailed the symptoms of colon cancer.

"I read that article and determined my symptoms were right in line with the pamphlet that I had read," Cress said. "I know myself, I was very scared and reluctant to ever have a colonoscopy and I was 54 at the time."

"Finally, the doctor, the very last thing he said to me was, get a colonoscopy, but don't worry, you don't have cancer," Winters said.

Becky Winters said within minutes after her procedure, her doctor gave her the news.

"It was a shock to me. I would have never guessed I would be diagnosed with cancer at 45," Winters said.

"March 14 was the day I was diagnosed, of '08," Cress said.

Three weeks later, Cress began chemo and radiation treatments and underwent multiple surgeries in hopes of beating his early stage 4 colon cancer.

"The good lord put in me in St. Louis where they had the facility. Four years ago, Quincy didn't have the facility we have now.They have an excellent facility here now and I wouldn't be afraid to come to Quincy for any treatment," Cress said.

"Don't be afraid. I know that they don't like to do colonoscopies until you're 50, you know. My kids are going to be 35 and they have to have one," Winters said.

"The more that the risk is there, the earlier you should be detected," Cress said.

"If you have these symptoms, if you have this problem, please, please go to the doctor," Winters said.

"The test is simple," Cress said. "It only takes a couple hours. The preparation the night before only takes a few hours. It's a little inconvenient, but it's not painful by any means, and it's a lifesaver. I don't count, but it's been four years, 1 month and 17 days."

Had it not been for my wife, we wouldn't be having this interview today

"I was getting ready to go to work and my wife saw this mole on my back. I had not noticed it but she thought it had looked a little bad. Then it kept growing and the next time, it was a pretty good size and she insisted then that I go to the doctor, which I'd put off, but finally, I broke down," John Griffin, from Payson said.

"The doctor really didn't think it was malignant but he removed it, part of it in his office. When the biopsy came back it was a malignant melanoma," John said.

How do I check my skin?

John says he was one of the lucky ones. The cancer had spread over the skin but had not reached down into the tissues. "The real danger comes in when they spread to the lymphnodes and throughout the body, and the danger is, once that happens, the outcome is not very good," John said.

How to perform a self-exam

John's thankful he had someone like his wife looking out for him.

"Had it not been for her, what do you think would have happened?---We wouldn't be having this interview today, probably," John said.

"It's essential. With any cancer, early detection is the key," John said.

"The doctor, he was so upset with himself, he said, 'you have to come right away.' And I said, 'oh it can't be that critical. Tell me on the phone,' but he wouldn't do it. So then I went over there and that's when he told me and my reaction was, let's get on it and taken care of. There's nothing more I can do about it," John said.

John went into surgery to have the rest of the cancer removed. He's been cancer free for the last seven years.

"A spot that changes color, grows rapidly, or something unusual in the skin area, get it checked. Because if you catch it early, you may be able to save your life and you'll probably be able to avoid chemo or radiation now," John said.

"I was one of them that ran around in my younger days, with no shirt, worked outside, and did that for years. Got sunburned a lot and never gave it a thought. And I paid for it," John said.

The survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 99 percent. The survival rate falls to 15 percent for those with advanced disease.