Annette Colden is about to celebrate 13 years cancer-free – a milestone she marks each year thanks to a promise made to her late sister.
“My sister made me promise her I would get my mammograms. She knew the importance of getting checked out,” said Annette, who lost her father, three brothers and her sister to cancer. “Like any other woman, when that time came, I was ready to make excuses. But I’d made that promise.”
Her first mammogram came back clear. In her second, Annette noticed a spot. But it didn’t concern her doctor, who credited it as normal variations. When she went back the next year, the spot remained.
In that moment, Annette began advocating for herself. After quieting her internal voice telling her something wasn’t right the previous year, she knew she needed to trust herself and take control. She declined the doctor’s referral to pursue treatment within the same practice and instead turned to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“When I had that feeling, when he told me I was fine when I literally saw it for myself, I should have done something then,” Annette said. “I trusted that instead of my inner feeling. If your sixth sense is talking to you, listen to that. Listen to your own body.”
Anyone seeking a second opinion or treatment can easily get into Roswell Park now, but Annette needed a referral, which her doctor would not give. So she reached out to a person she’d met the year before who worked at Roswell Park to ask for help.
“People come from all over the world to go to Roswell Park. I’m here in the same city,” Annette said. “I couldn’t let it go.”
First came the biopsy to confirm the diagnosis – stage 0 breast cancer – fast followed by a lumpectomy, then a second lumpectomy. But her cancer was “like an iceberg.” They had removed it all off the top, but more cancer remained below. After time for healing from the first two surgeries, Annette had her mastectomy and was declared cancer free.
“It was not easy, but I wouldn’t change it at all,” Annette said. “It didn’t just change my appearance; it changed my outlook on a lot of things – changed everything about me. It made me a better person.”