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Early detection helps Suzanne Russell celebrate 12 years of being cancer free

Suzanne Russell

Suzanne Russell

Licensed professional counselor Suzanne B. Russell of Jackson is celebrating 12 year as a breast cancer survivor. She’s happy to say there have been no further problems since her bilateral mastectomy on Aug. 15, 2002.

A retired teacher who now owns mindCARES counseling services, Russell was age 50, had no family history of breast cancer and no symptoms when a routine mammogram, followed by a sonogram, revealed she had estrogen-fed tumors.

“There was a suspicious spot detected by a mammogram so they performed a sonogram,” Russell said. “Sonograms cannot be used to survey the entire breast, only a small portion. When they performed the sonogram, the suspicious spot was not a problem, but they were able to detect another spot not detected by the mammogram. When the biopsy was completed, the doctors determined the tumor was malignant.”

At the time, Russell’s daughter was expecting her first child, a daughter. “My first reaction was shock and disbelief, along with abject fear like I had never felt,” she recalls. “Was I going to die? Would I see my granddaughter grow up?”

The next day after the diagnosis, Russell saw a surgeon who recommended that she have a lumpectomy, and referred her to a radiologist. “The radiologist advised against a lumpectomy because I had fibrocystic breast disease making any future tumors very difficult to detect,” she said. “I began researching all of the options, and I decided to return to see the surgeon with the plan for a bilateral mastectomy. My daughter was expecting her child near the end of July, so surgery was set for August 15. I did not tell anyone, other than my parents; I wanted the arrival of my first grandchild to be total happiness for all of us.”

Although Russell’s surgeon was firm that all she needed was a lumpectomy since she had only one small tumor in the left breast, research revealed to her that reoccurrences were most likely to be in the remaining breast. She also learned that many women who have lumpectomies later have more tumors. “Thanks be to God, I stood by my decision! I did not want my life to be an endless parade of mammograms every six months wondering if or when the tumors might reappear,” she said. “It is customary to have a pathology report after any surgery for cancer. When the surgeon received the report, he was stunned to learn that there were several malignant tumors in the right breast that were undetected by the mammogram.

“I truly believe I would not be here today if I had not had that mammogram in July of 2002. I believe that God places people in your life to help you navigate through difficult times, and I kept hearing the words of the radiologist, ‘I would not do a lumpectomy, because I am a worry wart.’ How right he was!”

Fortunately, there was no lymph node involvement for Russell as the tumors were estrogen fed; most likely from birth control pills and estrogen replacement therapy.

Now 62, Russell feels a positive attitude and tons of support from family and friends helped her through the throes of surgery, recovery, and the years that have followed. “Also, I never lost sight of what a blessing the early diagnosis was. I was extremely fortunate to get the early diagnosis and effective treatment,” she said. “One lady friend, Johnnie Carlisle, took me to Cancun for a week during the recoup time and that certainly helped maintain a positive outlook.”

Russell’s advice to those struggling with breast cancer is simple. “Find a purpose for living and then live that purpose ‘all in.’ Surround yourself with positive people and walk by faith, not by sight,” she said.

Devotion to family and friends has been an important purpose of Russell’s life but fulfillment in her career has played a significant role in her renewed zeal for life. Since her breast cancer surgery, she completed post graduate work in counseling and became licensed as a professional counselor. She worked for a time at St. Dominic Counseling Center until another detour in January 2009 when St Dominic downsized their behavioral health program and she was without a job. “I had heard the saying that faith begins at the end of your comfort zone and after much prayer and faith, I stepped way out of my comfort zone of a predictable salary and opened a private practice on April 1, 2009,” she said.

The practice was initially called Suzanne B. Russell, LPC, but in the fall of 2013 she changed the name to mindCARES. “The first couple of years in private practice were challenging to say the least, I averaged about nine clients a week, but by the summer of 2014 that number had grown tremendously to an average of 35 clients weekly,” she said.

With another leap of faith, Russell recently expanded her practice to add two counselors, Lyn Pruitt and Anne Sinclaire, to mindCARES. “Since moving to our 751 Avignon Drive location in Ridgeland, mindCARES has continued to expand services. In addition to counseling services provided during regular office hours, we offer two groups never before offered to the general public in the Jackson area,” she said. “They are Overcoming Codependency for Women, and I’m Divorced…Now What?

“As part of my appreciation for the support I have received in my private practice, I am offering free Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder screening to any child or teen during the academic year of 2014-2015,” Russell said. “It is estimated that a child or teen who has ADHD and is not treated misses up to 50 percent of what is presented in the classroom. More than 90 percent of youth who are treated for ADHD experience a vast improvement academically.”

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About Lynn Lofton

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