Bedford woman says mammogram saved her life

Oct. 27—In the 1990s, Cindy Speck was ready to have a second child with her husband, Ted.

"I remember going to see my gynecologist for an annual checkup, and I was wanting to talk about pregnancy," she said.

Speck, then in her 30s, was excited to see the doctor and talk about preconception plans, but minutes into that examination, excitement changed to fear.

"The doctor said she felt a lump in my breast," she said. "Even though I did routine self breast exams in the shower, I had missed this. It was obvious there was something there."

Speck subsequently had a biopsy. Fortunately, at that time results came back negative, but doctors recommended her to keep up with regular mammograms for the rest of her life.

"This began a 20-year journey of breast cancer scares," she said. "I no longer had just the screening mammography. I had the diagnostic mammograms, and I was never able to get just one set of scans. Technicians would have me sit outside, and wait for additional pictures. So it was a very anxious time."

This went on for 20 years — regular mammograms, numerous stereotactic biopsies — and results would always come back negative.

"So, I continued to count my blessings," she said.

Speck grew up in Everett, Bedford County, but lived in northern Virginia for 38 years. In 2017, the death of her father brought her back home with her husband.

"We decided we should retire early and move back up here to help take care of my mom," she said.

Speck retired in November 2018 from health care information technology and was in the process of moving back to Bedford County when she got her annual mammogram.

"This time when the radiologist came back she had that look on her face," she said. "She was like, 'Um, I'm pretty sure you have breast cancer. This does not look good.'"

The radiologist told her the change was significant from the previous year's mammogram. Days later she was diagnosed with breast cancer — Stage 2.

"This cancer had become — the doctor used the word 'angry' — very aggressive and angry," she said.

"So here I am, retired and moving back home, my husband and I have all these plans for how we are going to start our retirement life together, and this is not what we had in our minds for that," Speck said.

In December of that year, she had a double mastectomy.

"I had chemotherapy in 2019 and also began Herceptin treatment for a year because I was Her2 cancer positive. Her2 is a certain protein, which in normal cells helps control cell growth," she said.

The chemotherapy and Herceptin medication was prescribed after the mastectomy to kill any cancer that may have spread beyond the breasts through the lymph node system.

"For my treatment, they used targeted therapy," she said. "That's what's great — that's what's changed over the years through all the research that's done. When you have your specific cancer that's diagnosed, they have targeted therapies that can help. Every day they are improving research and treatment procedures."

After a year of treatment, she was cancer-free.

"One of the things I want to point out is for women to get mammograms," she said. "Because if I hadn't gotten my mammogram, I probably wouldn't be alive today."

The fight against cancer is now in Speck's mind, as she whisks away thoughts that it could be back when she feels an ache or pain.

"I have my faith in God that helps me stay positive, and I have hope that I have a long life ahead of me," she said.

Her husband, Ted; their daughter, Becca; and Speck's mother, Joyce Criswell, have been her support.

"I couldn't have gotten through this without them," she said.

Speck, 63, also dedicates her time to serving breast cancer patients through volunteering for the Bedford County Pink Ribbon Fund.

Speck joined the board in 2019, while still going through chemotherapy. She is currently the organization's secretary.

"The Pink Ribbon fund was established in 2017 and has given more than $120,000 to cancer patients in Bedford," she said. "Our major fundraiser is a 5K run/walk every October. In fact, we just had this year's race just on the 15th and raised more than $28,000."

Every dollar raised for the fund goes directly to help breast cancer patients in the Bedford area.

"We provide gas cards for patients to get to their treatments, because a lot of those treatments aren't here in Bedford," Speck said. "Women are traveling to Altoona, Pittsburgh or Johnstown. We also pay for bills because many patients struggle not having a lot of insurance."

As a part of her work with the Bedford County Pink Ribbon Fund, Speck leads a breast cancer support group in Bedford.

"I started a group up in 2020 right before the COVID-19 pandemic started, and we met a time or two before everything shut down. We tried to do it online, but it didn't work. But for the past couple years we've been meeting regularly at ProCare in Bedford."

About eight to 15 women meet every month, she said, for fellowship that is unique.

"You really don't know what someone is going through unless you've experienced it yourself. That's what's good about this group," she said. "We have women in their 80s who have been cancer-free for 20 some years but still have those fears and anxieties, and then we have 30- and 40-year-old women who have just been diagnosed — they have children, they are angry, they are scared, so it's just an opportunity in a safe, confidential environment to come together in fellowship and help each other out."