Survivor Story

Naida Rutherford – Cancer Survivor

Naida Rutherford Cancer Survivor
Naida Rutherford – Cancer Survivor

Naida has a passion for helping people understand the importance of cancer screenings and why you should get them regularly. When you read about her cancer journey, you’ll understand why.

Naida RutherfordWhen Naida turned 41, she decided it was time to get the standard recommended mammogram, and it wasn’t a minute too soon. Less than twenty minutes after that first mammogram, she received a message that said immediate, urgent follow-up was needed. As a nurse practitioner, Naida knew that couldn’t be good.

She returned the next morning for a second test, and another test, and another. She was being tested over and over again. But no one was explaining why. Naida finally asked, “What is going on? This can’t be standard procedure.” Later, the radiologist would inform her that he saw three spots that concerned him. Two areas were suspected calcifications, but there was a third that he couldn’t see very well. He didn’t seem too concerned and recommended Naida wait six months and then re-evaluate things. That recommendation was based on an error in her file that indicated she didn’t have a family history or symptoms of breast cancer. 

Naida grew up in foster care, with no known history of her parents or extended family, so there was no way for her to know her family history. “No family history of cancer,” is very different from “family history unknown.” Even after explaining this to the doctor, he still recommended waiting six months. This was unacceptable to Naida. She knew that black and brown women die at higher rates of breast cancer because they are diagnosed at later stages. She refused to leave the doctor’s office until the doctor scheduled a biopsy. 

While waiting for her biopsy, Naida received two letters in the mail. The first was from the hospital confirming when she had her mammogram and stating “No malignancy suspected. Follow up in five years.” The second letter was from a local attorney’s office, with a letter from the hospital that was accidentally sent to them That letter said, “Immediate, urgent follow-up needed, malignancy suspected.” At this point, Naida was thinking, “What in the world is going on? Why am I getting conflicting information? What is happening? Do I have cancer or not?”

At that point, Naida decided to take action and control of her health. She called the hospital, and when she couldn’t reach anyone, she went there in person. They told her they had no idea why she received the first letter because there was clearly something on her test. After speaking with an oncologist, Naida learned she had Atypical ductal hyperplasia (ADH). The oncologist said that in a lot of cases, ADH is a benign situation, but it “could” be cancerous. They would need to do more testing to know for sure. At this point, Naida was tired of being given half answers. She felt like she was being tossed around. She couldn’t get a straight answer on what was happening with her body, so she sought a second opinion and it was worth it.

At the second hospital, Naida learned that she was in fact experiencing symptoms. She didn’t realize it until the doctor had a more in-depth conversation with her about nipple discharge. Naida wound up having a second biopsy, which led to a lumpectomy to pull out all of her calcifications. In contrast to her previous experience, this doctor told Naida to contact her immediately if she had other symptoms. She even gave Naida her personal phone number.

Naida would eventually receive a three-way phone call from her doctor and a pathologist – on a Saturday! She knew that probably wasn’t good. The doctor confirmed she had ADH, but it was worse than the original doctor believed. It was a highly proliferating ADH – and growing fast. When diagnosed with ADH, it means you have precursor cells that can turn into cancer, and at the growth rate of Naida’s calcifications, it’s likely that she would have been diagnosed with a late stage of breast cancer if she had waited six months as her first doctor suggested.

The doctor presented Naida with several options for treatment. She said, “If you were my daughter, I would tell you to have a double mastectomy.” After thinking over the options, Naida decided to have a double mastectomy. Thankfully, Naida did not require chemotherapy or radiation. Her surgery was curative. Had she waited 6 months, like originally suggested, there’s a good chance that would not have been the case.

This is why screenings matter. This is why they are important. Naida said, “Had I not advocated for myself, stood up for myself, then I would have had a much different story. My story is a perfect example of why screenings matter. What if I would have waited? What if I would not have gone back in April and just said, Oh, no, it’s fine. I don’t think I would be able to have this conversation with you today.”

Naida Rutherford

Naida is living a full and meaningful life today because she got screened and because she was her own best advocate.

Today, Naida is a nationally recognized Coroner and captivating motivational speaker who has been featured in USA Today, launched creative youth programs and serves on multiple boards and committees addressing health disparities, maternal mortality and morbidity, and domestic violence fatalities. She has devoted her career to helping people find their voices and advocating for screenings.

Join us at Grandover on August 18 to hear Naida Rutherford speak at the Welcome Reception for our Kay Yow Cancer Fund Golf Classic. You will not regret it.

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