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Indiana grandmother says 15-minute appointment saved her life

The diagnosis and discovery were thanks to a mobile mammogram unit that parked at her office during the pandemic. It was an appointment she nearly didn't make.

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — Taking care of yourself plays a major role in being the best version of yourself. A Noblesville grandmother is a testament to this. She said taking time for a 15-minute appointment may have saved her life. 

"I was healthy as a horse. I was the last person in the world I would have thought would have ever had this," Martha Repp said. 

The 61-year-old remembers when she got the call. 

"'Can you talk and you're comfortable?' I'm like, 'Sure, whatever.' And she's like, 'Well, you have cancer.' And I'm like, 'OK,'" Repp said. 

The diagnosis and discovery were thanks to a mobile mammogram unit that pulled up and parked at her office during the pandemic. It was an appointment she nearly didn't make.

"It's only 15 minutes, right? It's so silly. It's only 15 minutes, you just walk in, you get it done and you walk out," Repp said. 

Credit: Ascension St. Vincent

Her grandchildren, all between the ages of 2 and 17, were concerned for her wellbeing. Photos of socks helped keep them updated. 

Repp changed her socks each hour and took a photo to share in a group text during her four-hour chemotherapy treatments. 

If they saw two sock pictures, they'd know she was halfway done. Three meant she was nearly done and four was cause for celebration — one chemotherapy treatment down, leaving only a few left to go. 

Credit: Martha Repp

Visually, she changed too. Repp lost her hair, and it has grown back curly. But gradually, her strength came back, she's more active and her doctor said her outlook is promising, despite being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.

"Because it was an early stage when she was diagnosed, she will be treated in a curative manner," Dr. Ruemu Birhiray said. 

Unfortunately, detecting cancer early on has become less common during the pandemic. 

Birhiray said in his practice at Ascension St. Vincent, more cancers are being found at later stages. 

"The pandemic really has resulted in more advanced cancers being diagnosed and unfortunately, there'll be several more deaths than would have occurred because people waited," Birhiray said.

The screenings he doesn't want you to miss are for breast, colon, skin and prostate cancers.  

"Think about this: No need to get the vaccine only to die from cancer. There's no need for us to wear masks to protect ourselves if we're going to die from cancer that is potentially preventable," Birhiray said. "So, we must remember the pandemic is here. We got to do what we have to do for the pandemic, but we must take care of ourselves."

Repp documented each of her infusion appointments and celebrated when treatment was over. 

This holiday season is already so much better than last year. She has more time to make memories because she took the time to get screened. 

"I truly believe because of that, I'm here today, and I'm here today, stronger and better," Repp said.  

Cancer Screening Week came along in December, a month that closes out a year when nearly 2 million Americans were expected to be diagnosed with cancer. 

Early detection remains the best bet for treatment, and screenings are where you start. 

Click here for more on how regular screening may detect cancer early, including who should be screened and when.

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