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Team V supports Breast Cancer Awareness Month

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.- Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, 30th Medical Group superintendant and a breast cancer survivor, poses with a photograph of her mother here Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Sobel's mother lost her battle with breast cancer in 2007. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif.- Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, 30th Medical Group superintendant and a breast cancer survivor, poses with a photograph of her mother here Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011. Sobel's mother lost her battle with breast cancer in 2007. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and Team Vandenberg is doing its part to raise awareness.

Throughout the month, the 30th Medical Group here is providing literature and education in the clinic lobby on self breast examination, said Maj. Dawn Hinckley, the 30th MDG health care integrator.

According to the Susan G. Komen for the cure website 1 in 8 women will develop some sort of invasive breast cancer in her lifetime. Self breast examination and a mammogram are considered to be the best way to detect breast cancer in its early stages.

"We strongly encourage each patient to discuss the merits of self breast examination with his or her primary care provider," said Hinckley. "Women 40 years and older are considered high risk."

Team V member Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, the 30th MDG superintendent and breast cancer survivor, understands the importance of self breast examination.

"My grandmother and both of my mother's sisters battled breast cancer, so I knew I was at risk to develop it," said Sobel. "But nobody wants to believe it could happen to them."

Breast pain first alerted Sobel that there might be a problem, which is not common to experience in most breast cancer cases. She then noticed a change in her breast tissue during a self breast examination.

Symptoms of breast cancer include nipple discharge, swelling in all or part of the breast or armpit, skin irritation, dimpling of the breast, breast pain or a lump in the breast.

"I went to the clinic for a consultation and to be screened," said Sobel. "When I got home there was a message on my phone to call them back."

Due to conflicting schedules she had to wait through the holidays for the results.

"Luckily my mom was there; I don't know what I would have done without her," said Sobel. "After the holidays, I was admitted for a biopsy."

Sobel was diagnosed at the age of 38 with inter-ductal cancer, which presents itself in the milk ducts.

"It was the craziest thing," she said, her voice cracking. "One day I was walking around feeling fine, and the next I had cancer."

Because her cancer was too advanced for a lumpectomy, Sobel underwent a mastectomy, removing the breast and tissue that was cancerous.

"My mother stayed with me the whole time," said Sobel. "As a single parent, you are never off the clock; with her help I could focus on myself and know that my daughter was taken care of."

After a six-hour reconstructive surgery and testing of the tissue, her results came back cancer free.

"But that is not where my story ends," the cancer survivor said with tears in her eyes. "After I went into remission, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer."

Sobel's mother went through chemotherapy and a mastectomy, but lost her battle with breast cancer in 2007 after the cancer had spread.

"Early detection saves lives," said Sobel. "Be your own medical advocate and if you have a family history push to get a mammogram early."

Recently, the 30th Space Wing MDG equipped Vandenberg's clinic with a digital mammography machine, which is the most up to date technology in early detection.

"Digital screening and diagnostic mammograms are available for active duty, retirees and dependents 40 years and older," said Hinckley. "Mammograms are the best method to detect breast cancer early."

A digital mammography machine allows for faster results and a more accurate diagnosis than its film-reliant counterpart.

"We encourage visitors to come into the clinic and learn more about breast cancer and screening exam availability," said Hinckley. To schedule an appointment, call 805-605-8273.