MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- "It's 99 percent attitude," said retired Air Force Col. Charlie F. Spicka, 74, a former C-130 pilot. "You have to get up each day, look in the mirror and say "I do not have breast cancer."
Spicka flew 110 missions in Vietnam and retired after 30 years of service in 1984. The last thing the war veteran expected was to be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003.
Breast cancer is the second most lethal cancer (second only to lung cancer) and the second most common cancer in women (second only to skin cancer). The National Cancer Institute estimates that one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.
Although, early detection is leading to absolute survival, said Carol A. Childs, 65, the breast health case manager at Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton. Women do not become significantly at risk for breast cancer until age 40.
"It's vital for women to get annual mammograms," emphasized Childs, explaining that mammograms detect changes in the breast that lead to cancer before lumps even begin to form. This early stage of breast cancer is much easier to treat than later stages and has a significantly higher survivability rate, nearly 100 percent when the cancer has not spread to other areas
of the body.
Women under 40 are much less at risk but are urged to perform monthly self-exams and schedule a
physician-performed clinical breast exam at least every three years.
The Fresno, Calif. resident is a breast cancer survivor herself and was a registered nurse for many years.
"I want to help the ladies through the treatment process," Childs said about why she enjoys her job at the naval hospital. She has many responsibilities including sending reminders to Marines who are at the at-risk-age and overdue for their annual mammogram.
She also coordinates the NHCP monthly support group for breast cancer patients and survivors every second Wednesday of each month at 12:30 p.m. in the education department on the eighth floor of the hospital.
Spicka, his cancer now in remission, also attends the group often accompanied by his wife Carole Spicka.
"I try to be optimistic and supportive to the women there," said Spicka about when he attends the group.
"The family that gets mammograms together, stays together," he chuckled. The retired Air Force officer is a devoted advocate of breast cancer awareness in both men and women.
He urges men to be aware that, although the possibility is rare, they could get breast cancer at some point in their lives. Men breast cancer symptoms can include pain, itching and oozing from the nipple.
Although only one percent of breast cancer patients are men, the mortality rate for men is very high,approximately 30 percent for men and three percent for women.
"He spends a lot of time doing internet research," Childs said about Spicka. "He sends me the articles he finds."
In 2005 and 2006, NHCP moved to better support breast cancer prevention efforts. The hospital increased access to care by extending the hours of the Radiology Mammography Clinic Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Fridays until 4 p.m., said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Angelique Olszowka, the department head of Radiology.
Also, active-duty patients can now receive mammograms on a walk-in basis every Friday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Even asymptomatic women can schedule an appointment without a referral from their physician.
More information is available on The American Cancer Society website or by calling the NHCP breast health case manager at (760) 725-1734.