Breast Cancer Awareness Month – Following One Woman’s Journey

“I want people to know that we all get diagnoses or have things that happen to us throughout life that are horrible. However, we can use the diagnosis to reexamine our health, or life, and decide how we want to move forward,” Dr. Michelle Tollefson is choosing to move forward with a positive attitude and determination. She has decided to share her journey with breast cancer with 9Health to create awareness and emphasize the importance of regular breast screenings.

9Health is following Dr. Tollefson throughout the different stages of her cancer treatment and talked with her on Health Happens, our weekly Facebook Live show. You can watch the full episode by clicking here.

Dr. Tollefson is a wife and a mom to three children, ages three, six and 14. She’s a professor at Metropolitan State University in the health professions department, teaching integrative and lifestyle medicine, and is also an obstetrician-gynecologist.

Once she turned 40, she started getting annual mammograms. Now 42, she was diagnosed with grade three, stage two breast cancer after her most recent screening. This after a perfectly normal mammogram a year and one week prior.

As a physician herself, who follows a healthy lifestyle, without any family history of breast cancer, she was shocked by her cancer diagnosis, “At first, I asked, why me? Was there a risk factor I missed? But then I thought, why not me? One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.”

Following her diagnosis, she met her cancer team at the UCHealth Cancer Center on the Harmony Campus in Fort Collins to come up with a plan. So far, Dr. Tollefson has had a bilateral mastectomy and has started chemotherapy. She is also planning to do breast reconstruction through fat grafting or transfer – moving fat from other parts of her body to recreate breast tissue. Her reconstruction will be completed through several surgeries.

Her cancer team includes an oncologist, surgeon, plastic surgeon, dietician, counselor, and physical therapist. Along with Dr. Tollefson, we talked to one of the physical therapists at the Cancer Center, Jeff Eagan on Health Happens.

He emphasized the importance of exercise and physical therapy not only in cancer treatment but in reducing the risk and recurrence of cancer, “Depending on the studies you read, you can reduce your risk of recurrence anywhere from 30-50% with moderate-intensity exercise.”

Moderate-intensity exercise is as simple as walking at a moderate pace, enough to increase your heart rate some, but nothing that’s high intensity.

As someone who teaches healthy lifestyle medicine, Dr. Tollefson knows the importance of physical activity in reducing your risk for chronic disease. She just never thought she’d be someone that would also need it as part of her own cancer treatment. She is continuing to teach her classes at MSU Denver while going through cancer treatment.

We will continue to follow her cancer journey and update this story.

9Health is a 501c-3 community non-profit empowering people to put health in their own hands by providing tools such as preventive health screenings, evidence-based, objective health education and eTools and resources for every day in your health journey. To support their work, go to www.9healthfair.org/sponsors/support/