CLEVELAND– It was supposed to be a regular physical at the Cleveland VA Medical Center but one Navy veteran says the appointment changed her life. Nearly two years later, Heather Roe, 30, is sharing the story of her rare diagnosis and why she believes doctors at the VA saved her life.
“When I heard the word the first time I had already known, the moment that I found out I needed a biopsy I just I knew it; I knew that I was going to have cancer,” said Roe.
After serving several deployments in the U.S. Navy during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Roe believed life as a civilian would slow down.
“I did three deployments, two westpacs and one around South America so we were always underway and out to sea a lot so we definitely had a lot of experiences,” said Roe.
After serving five years Roe said she was ready for a new adventure as a public affairs professional at the Cleveland VA. She says she did not imagine she would begin cancer treatments at just 28 years old at the time.
“I kind of viewed it as, ‘Okay, Heather; this is your fourth deployment, like, let’s do this,'” said Roe.
Thursday, she celebrated an end to this unexpected “deployment,” her final cancer infusion treatment at the VA.
“I also had HER2 protein in my cancer which made me triple positive breast cancer,” said Roe.
Roe says she believed people under 40 did not get breast cancer. During a self exam, Roe says she found what would later be confirmed as a pea-sized tumor.
Roe opted for a lumpectomy as part of her treatment and says she is thankful to her doctor who took her concerns seriously.
“It’s been two years almost to the day since I found out that I had the tumor,” said Roe.
Dr. Lisa Arfons, an oncologist at the Cleveland VA Medical Center, says Roe’s cancer was especially alarming because of her age.
“We do know that women who are diagnosed at a younger age have a lower survival and can have a more aggressive disease than those women who are older,” said Dr. Arfons.
She encourages patients to be “breast self aware” by performing self exams and alerting a doctor about any concern.
As Roe prepares for a new chapter, she encourages other young people to take their health seriously.
“Early detection saves lives,” she said. “It saved my life and better to know early then when it’s too late.”