A silent killer is stalking women all over the country and many are unaware of it. This killer is different from a serial killer or terrorist; in most cases it can be prevented with a 15-minute examination once a year.
Breast cancer survivor Donna Benton knows. "Having regular mammograms saved my life," she said.
Benton, 42, of Glencoe said she knows the benefits of mammography first hand. "Months before my diagnosis doctors found four unusual spots on my breast and I knew it could be cancer," she said.
Benton was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2003. "I wasn't shocked or scared when I found out. The first couple of days you go through stages of grieving, denial and then acceptance. Finally I told myself 'Let's fix it,'" she said.
The exact causes of breast cancer are unknown, but heredity, weight, physical activity and smoking are risk factors.
In October 2003, Benton had a mastectomy, a complete removal of her right breast, at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Little Rock. After the surgery she had her breast reconstructed with tissue from her back at the Little Rock Women's Breast Center.
Benton said the surgeries were a "piece of cake" but her next pathology report showed the cancer had spread and she started chemotherapy treatments.
Chemotherapy weakens the immune system and allows harmless germs to cause serious illness and even death.
The chemotherapy treatments caused her unbearable pain. "Every time I went in for a treatment I was sick for the next two days," she said. Her last treatment was Jan. 21.
Benton said when the treatments were finished she suffered hair and memory loss.
Benton has been the office manager at Dr. Julia Garner's medical office for 25 years. Dr. Garner set up an office in the back of the clinic so Benton could continue to work.
"The hardest part was being in the back away from the people. I couldn't be exposed to their germs," she said. At lunch time Benton's co-workers would disinfect the building so she could walk through the office and leave for lunch.
In March she returned to her job -- dealing with patients.
Benton said her prognosis for the future is good. She said a person with cancer can help herself by having a positive attitude. She said early detection is crucial for cancer survival.
Breast Cancer is the second leading cause of death for women in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
Every year 200,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and nearly one in five die from it. When breast cancer is caught in its earliest stages there is a nearly 100-percent survival rate.
"Having a mammography was the best decision I've ever made, you bet ya. There were no lumps or other signs. Eventually it would have gotten me," she said.