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Fight Like a Girl: Greta Fortenberry’s Story of Surviving Breast Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the most common cancer found in women in the United States, except for skin cancers. Overall, the average risk of a woman in the US developing breast cancer at some point in her life is 13%, and it is estimated that in 2023, 297,790 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed. Since half of all women are between 45 and 62 years of age when diagnosed, Anderson resident Greta Fortenberry never expected that breast cancer would be a reality for her at 74 years old. But when it did become a reality, Fortenberry was determined to do whatever it took not to be one of the 43,700 women who eventually died from the disease.
On April 12, 2023, Greta Fortenberry went for her annual mammogram at Anderson Radiology, as she has done for years. When she was called back to do a follow-up mammogram on her right breast, she was not alarmed or overly worried because she had been called back before, and it was always nothing. She’d had no signs or symptoms that anything was wrong, so she thought this time would be like all of the others. On May 2, she had to return to have an ultrasound and a biopsy done, and on May 4, she and her husband returned for the results. As per the usual routine when coming for a results visit, the Fortenberrys were met by Lori Milford, who escorted them to her office and asked them to have a seat while she went to get the doctor who had performed the biopsy.
“I immediately looked at my husband and said, this is not normal,” Fortenberry recalls.
When the doctor came in to go over the results, she delivered the news—breast cancer. It was decided immediately that Fortenberry would return on May 9 for a breast MRI, and on May 10, she would go to Piedmont Surgical Associates to see Dr. William Buice.
“Dr. William Buice was a good choice,” says Fortenberry.
Dr. Buice laid out the options. The first was a Lumpectomy, removal of the tumor(s) only. The next option was a Mastectomy, the removal of the entire breast. The last option was to do nothing and wait and see what happened. The Fortenberrys wanted to discuss these options, so they stopped for tea and french fries and weighed them out.
“While we were out, Dr. Buice called to say he had the results on some pathology reports he’d been waiting on. I instantly told him that I had thought about everything and told him since I am 74 years old, that if I had the Lumpectomy, I could possibly be back in 2 or so years facing the same situation, so I had decided on having the Mastectomy,” Fortenberry said.
Her surgery was scheduled for May 30, and everything went very well. After two follow-up visits with Dr. Buice, Fortenberry was assigned to the Anderson Cancer Center Oncology and Hematology to see Dr. John Doster, who Fortenberry says is “another great choice.” After discussion, Dr. Doster and Fortenberry determined her best treatment plan was to take a pill daily for up to 5 years.
“The first medication had side effects, so at my visit on July 21, 2023, we changed my medication, and so far, I have been doing really well with this one,” says Fortenberry.
Fortenberry urges women never to stop doing at-home self-breast exams on a weekly basis. She had been doing them weekly until her mid-sixties, and at that point assumed she was past the age of risk, so she stopped. There was no family history of breast cancer either. There were a few other types of cancer, which Fortenberry didn’t put out of the realm of possibility, but she never thought breast cancer would be an issue.
“Having breast cancer is not like it was 10, 15, or 20 years ago. It is more easily detected with weekly self-exams and annual mammograms. Early diagnosis is the answer for the best treatments,” states Fortenberry.
As for how she dealt with having breast cancer and stayed strong and determined to beat it, Fortenberry has lots to say.
“Finding out I had breast cancer was, to me, The First Day of the Rest of My Life. I knew I had changes and challenges ahead of me, and I refused to give in to any of them. I still have challenges ahead of me, but I plan to win it all. I did not think of myself at first but of my family. I knew it was not self-pity nor woe is me time, but time to get strong and fight like a girl time. I knew and still know that God has to be in control and needs to control this until the finish line. Mourning a sickness or death is only digging ourselves into holes and places we may not be able to recover from, but positive thinking and praising God as he raises us up and readies us for what we are about to face and what He has in store for us gets us through.”
At this stage, Fortenberry wants to help others. She has a wonderful support group of her husband, children and grandchildren, friends, and church family, but many have no one. They need the fighters and survivors to become their support group. Says Fortenberry,
“Contact the AnMed Cancer Center Support Services. They’ll rally around you and call on us who can help. Don’t fear asking for help or prayers, but never ask for pity. We’re our own best support unit, and we have to do it with sincerity and faith. But we need others, too.”
Fortenberry says that enough good things cannot be said about the physicians, nurses, and support staff at AnMed and Anderson Radiology during this experience. She recalls Melissa Haynie of AnMed Cancer Support Services telling her about what their group does to help cancer patients, and she was at the hospital with Fortenberry when she had her surgery and during her first visit with Dr. Doster. Amy Elgin with the Cancer Support System even helped by completing insurance forms, taking that worry off the Fortenberrys. Impressions, who supplied her artificial breast and bra, were also wonderful.
“They are there for us physically and mentally,” says Fortenberry.