Every summer, volunteers from Siteman Cancer Center distribute free paper fans at the St. Louis Muny. The fans help patrons stay cool in the thick heat and humidity, but they’re also printed with contact information for mammography services at Siteman. The goal is to remind women to get their annual mammograms, and to make it as easy as possible for them to set up an appointment.
Three years ago, one of these fans led to a surprising breast cancer diagnosis for Anita Chimento, a woman who believed it could never happen to her. On August 5, Chimento returned to the Muny to distribute the fans herself, hoping to reach other women who may be delaying their mammograms, just as she had done.
Chimento was 10 years overdue for a mammogram the night she and her friend Linda went to see a production of The Music Man at the Muny in the summer of 2016. It had been only too easy to keep putting it off, especially with four children and a real-estate development business that needed her attention.
“I didn’t think it was that important,” Chimento said. “I didn’t think there was much of a chance or a risk. There wasn’t a history in my family.”
Chimento’s OB-GYN had just reminded her, once again, that she needed to have a mammogram soon. When she saw the mammography information on the Siteman fan, it seemed like a strange coincidence – another sign that the time had come.
“I just committed that night,” she said. “I said, I’ll call the number on the fan.”
Chimento was attracted by the convenience of the process. She noticed that one of the facilities listed on the fan was very close to her house, which, she felt, left her “no excuse” not to do it.
She was also certain that if she got a mammogram through Siteman, it would be done properly.
“I’ve always known that Barnes-Jewish has such a great reputation, and the fan said that where you get your mammogram makes a difference; and I thought, you know, if I’m going to have one, I’m going to go with someone who will give me great care,” she said.
Chimento followed through on her resolve. She made an appointment at the Highlands mammography location, opting for a 2D mammogram instead of a 3D one. When the technician noticed worrisome calcification on her scan, however, she was advised to seek additional, more advanced screening. After a follow-up, 3D mammogram at Siteman’s main campus in the Central West End and a biopsy, she was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer.
The news that she had cancer left her shocked and confused. She initially didn’t know what Stage 0 breast cancer was, and felt relieved when her physicians explained that the cancer was limited to a milk duct and highly treatable. What’s more, going in for a mammogram when she did allowed the doctors to catch it early.
“They told me that if you’re going to get a cancer diagnosis, this is the best you can get, and it’s because of the mammogram that they could diagnose it at that stage,” she said.
But Chimento still felt stunned.
“I thought, I was just doing my good-dooby deed of the day! I’m not supposed to be diagnosed! I’m just supposed to check it off on my list that I did it,” she said.
Chimento went on to be treated for her cancer at Siteman. She had a lumpectomy to remove the cancerous area followed by a week of brachytherapy radiation treatment. Today, she is cancer free, and returns to Siteman regularly for mammograms and breast MRIs to ensure that the cancer hasn’t returned.
The breast cancer team at Siteman impressed her with their skill and dedication to their patients.
“Siteman’s just exceptional,” she said. “They have the cutting-edge technology, and they have such professional and competent surgeons, and nurses, and technicians. They’re personable, they care about it, and it shows in everyone you meet.”
Three years after that night at the Muny, Chimento is optimistic as she looks to the future and thankful for the early diagnosis she received.
“I’m not concerned about my prognosis, I’m not concerned whether I’ll be here for my kids,” she said. “I know I’ve been taken care of, and that they will be, too. I’m just grateful.”
She also has some words of advice for the women she distributed Siteman fans to at the Muny’s performance of Matilda on August 5.
“A mammogram is really important,” she said. “You really should have it on a regular basis. It can seem a little uncomfortable, it’s not something you look forward to doing, but it’s very important, very crucial for your health. And where you have it makes a difference.”