'Get your mammogram': Lodgepole woman diagnosed with breast cancer after first mammogram

Jane Zalesky, 82, sorts through T-shirts she’s earned from participating in the annual Night of Hope Walk for Cancer in the kitchen of her Lodgepole home on Wednesday. Zalesky has 16 shirts from the event throughout the years — as a four-time breast cancer survivor, she feels it is important to support other cancer patients through fundraisers such as Night of Hope, which takes place in Sidney annually.

If Jane Zalesky could say one thing to women everywhere, it would be: “Get your mammogram.”

The 82-year-old Lodgepole resident avoided mammograms for most of her life, despite losing her mother to breast cancer and having two sisters diagnosed with the disease. Her children didn’t want her to suffer the same fate and urged her to have the screening done.

“They told me I needed to make the appointment and get it done or they’d make it, hog tie me and take me,” she said, laughing.

In 2000, Zalesky, then 63, finally gave in. The test turned up a pencil eraser-sized lump in her right breast, which was determined to be cancerous.

Thankfully, Zalesky said, it was only stage one but she’d still have a fight ahead of her.

“A friend said to me, ‘C isn’t for cancer, C is for Christ,’” said Zalesky, who explained that her faith has made things easier.

After that first diagnosis, Zalesky underwent a lumpectomy and had 36 radiation treatments. At the time, Zalesky had to drive to Scottsbluff for treatment, traveling about 90 miles each way.

“It added up,” said Zalesky.

All was well until 2003, when another mammogram showed a cancerous lesion in her left breast. Another lumpectomy and another round of radiation put Zalesky in the clear for the next 10 years. That time around, Zalesky was able to get treatment in Sidney.

In 2013, she was hit with yet another breast cancer diagnosis — this time it was another tumor in her right breast. She made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy.

“It was traumatic,” she said.

Doctors then put her on oral chemotherapy drugs, which she would continue to take for five years.

In early 2018, it was finally time to stop the medication but at a follow up a few months later, cancer was once again discovered on her right side.

“I had to do 18 rounds of very strong radiation,” said Zalesky.

She also began another round of oral chemotherapy and managed to overcome her fourth breast cancer diagnosis.

Zalesky will continue to take the chemo drugs as a preventative measure for the foreseeable future. In December, she’ll check in with her oncologists again to find out whether or not she is still cancer free.

“I feel good, so I’m hoping,” said Zalesky. “I don’t have any pep, but I think that’s the chemo.”

In addition to cancer, Zalesky has also been dealing with macular degeneration.

“I’m losing my eyesight,” Zalesky said. “I haven’t driven out of town in two years. It’s frustrating — I’m used to just getting in the car and going.”

She’ll still drive down the street to get the mail, but aside from that, she finds a ride.

“I don’t feel safe,” Zalesky said. “I didn’t want to put someone else in danger.”

Since she travels to Sidney for most of her doctor’s appointments, not driving has been a challenge, but Zalesky has had many friends and family members who’ve stepped up to help out.

“People are so wonderful,” Zalesky said.

She said she’s also felt a lot of encouragement and support from her medical team, which has also made the multiple diagnoses easier.

Thanks to a strong support system and a proactive approach to her health, Zalesky has been able to celebrate special moments such as her great-grandson’s first birthday.

“I’m so fortunate and so happy to have been able to be there,” said Zalesky.

She may have missed it if she wouldn’t have gotten that mammogram in 2000.

“It saved my life,” she said, which is why she encourages other women to have the screening done regularly.

Zalesky feels that some women may avoid getting mammograms because they don’t know what to expect or they’re afraid the process will be painful.

“It does hurt, but it only hurts for a little bit,” said Zalesky. “If it keeps you from needing radiation or chemo, it’s well worth it.”

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Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

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