Thursday, October 11, 2018
Watching a cousin fall victim to breast cancer became a heartbreaking wake-up call for Kristi Lowenthal of Savannah. At age 38, she began forcing herself to receive annual mammograms.
In the years since her cousin’s passing, her two sisters fought breast cancer with double mastectomies. Lowenthal, however, remained in the clear and continued her diligence by getting check-ups, eating right, and exercising.
Eventually, she admits, these yearly exams “became very routine, and I always felt like it was an inconvenience.”
However, a perennial mammogram likely saved her life. In February 2017, a decade after receiving her first mammogram, the staff at SouthCoast Health Imaging noticed something suspect. After detecting a small lump, the staff scheduled Lowenthal for an outpatient needle biopsy. Due to the awkward location of the lump, the biopsy was unable to take place.
Lowenthal was then referred to SouthCoast Health surgeon Dr. Christa Jillard. The physician’s original plan was to remove some tissue for biopsy. However, once Dr. Jillard began operating, she chose to extract the entire lump. The biopsy came back positive.
“A week before my 49th birthday, I got the call I had breast cancer,” Lowenthal says. “And that’s just one of those calls you think you’re never going to get. …It was shocking, unimaginable, and a lot to take in. So that’s where my journey started.”
Although Dr. Jillard found the surgical margins to be clear –meaning no cancer cells could be seen at the outer edge of the tissue she removed– Lowenthal’s next step would be a second surgery to remove lymph nodes for testing.
The lymph node biopsy came back negative. Yet, Lowenthal was still required to undergo a month of radiation therapy, five days per week.
“That was really tough and surreal,” Lowenthal recalls. “Going there every day and seeing people who were sicker than me was emotional and put things in perspective.”
At that point, Lowenthal began noticing the effects of positive thinking. Believing everything would be OK was invaluable, she says. In the midst of treatment, Lowenthal remembers coming to work with a smile on her face, her co-workers looking at her in disbelief. And Dr. Jillard’s own optimism was infectious, Lowenthal says.
“It absolutely helped,” she explains. “I knew I was in good hands with Dr. Jillard.”
The success of her treatment brings with it a renewed appreciation for living in the moment. Activities such as kayaking with her husband, John, and their teenagers, Matthew and Merritt, are more-than priceless.
“I’m so thankful they caught the cancer in time,” Lowenthal says. “The one thing I tell people is early detection is key. Whatever you do, don’t skip your annual appointments.”
Today she’s comfortable retelling her personal journey for the betterment of fellow patients without allowing herself to be synonymous with the disease.
“I deeply respect Mrs. Lowenthal for sharing her experience,” says Dr. Jillard. “She powered through this since day one. I know very well, and I admire, that she does not let breast cancer define her. Sharing her story is a selfless act to bring awareness to the disease and help others.”
Whether you are looking for a primary care doctor or a pediatrician, an ObGyn or another medical specialist, SouthCoast Health has you covered with its wide range of world-class healthcare services, available throughout the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry. SouthCoast Health has 120 physicians and medical professionals in 18 locations in Savannah, Richmond Hill, Pooler, Rincon, Baxley, Bluffton, Hilton Head, and Hinesville. SouthCoast Health offers comprehensive medical services including: Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics & Gynecology, Pediatrics, Allergy and Immunity, Cardiology, Eye Care, Imaging, Infectious Diseases, Nephorology, Neurology, Physical Therapy, Podiatry, Pulmonology, Sleep Medicine, Surgery, Clinical Trial Research Studies, Diabetic Self-Management Training Sessions, Dietetic Counseling, High Risk Breast Cancer Clinic, Laboratory Services, Massage Therapy, Optical Shop, Pharmacy, and Urgent Care.