Twins encourage testing for breast cancer
Warren breast cancer survivors say mammograms are ‘life saving’
WARREN — Twin sisters Mary and Barbara Busko now share many things in life, birth date, looks and outfits among them. Add to the list of similarities something else — they are twin breast cancer survivors.
Barbara was diagnosed with Stage 1A invasive ductal carcinoma after a January 2019 mammogram at the age of 84. One year later, Mary was diagnosed with Stage 2A after her annual mammogram revealed a problem.
“We are very lucky survivors,” Barbara said. “It was caught early.”
Every close relative — including their parents and grandparents — succumbed to some form of cancer, Barbara said. They themselves previously survived thyroid cancer, both on the left side of their bodies.
“No one wants to hear that word ‘cancer,'” Mary said. “We feel we’ve beaten the odds. We got to our 80s.”
The Busko twins were born 86 years ago Sept. 25 in Warren City Hospital.
“I’m 25 minutes older,” Mary said. “I was $25 (in hospital fees). Barb was $5.”
Mary retired from Copperweld Steel Corp. as the purchasing manager. Barbara is the retired clerk of Warren City Council and former longtime president of the Animal Welfare League of Trumbull County, where Mary also served on the board.
Both sisters perform monthly self-examinations and schedule annual mammograms.
“That’s the most life-saving thing any woman can do,” Barbara said.
She’d found lumps six times before — the first when she was 31 years old. All were benign.
“This was the seventh one. I thought this time my luck had run out. It did,” she said.
Barbara was called back for more tests after the January 2019 exam revealed something suspicious in her left underarm area. In March 2019, two lymph nodes confirmed cancerous were removed.
Given the choice between 33 lower-doses of radiation or 20 accelerated doses, Barbara chose to get it over with faster and went in five days per week for four weeks.
Mary’s diagnosis came this year, also on the left side. “I couldn’t feel it. The doctor couldn’t feel it because it was a little deeper,” she said.
After surgery, she also chose the accelerated radiation schedule and finished May 1.
In both cases, the early detection led to successful outcomes, the twins said.
“We both feel so very, very luck that it was caught early because of mammograms,” Mary said. “We want women out there to know to get that mammogram. It will save your life.”
“By the time you feel it,” Barbara said, “it’s too late.”
Alexa Polinsky, marketing director at Trumbull Regional Medical Center, said no one should put it off getting mammograms or any other health screening over COVID-19 concerns.
“All protocols are in place,” Polinsky said. “It’s safe.”
Luana Andamasaris, radiation oncology nurse at Trumbull Regional, said if you’re still active, you’re not too old for regular cancer screenings.
“Anyone who has any quality of life should have a mammogram,” Andamasaris said.
Don’t wait on a doctor to make that happen, she said.
“We had a woman today that hasn’t had a mammogram since 1983. She didn’t advocate for herself,” Andamasaris said.
Going through treatment can be taxing, especially for a woman in her 80s.
“You get tired. You get sore. But it’s nothing you can’t handle,” Mary said. “Don’t be afraid. Make a point to come in. Get it done.”
They also said that the team at Trumbull Regional walk cancer patients through everything and make them comfortable.
“We’re both feeling good,” Barbara said. But they’re not letting down their guard. “It can appear elsewhere, so you always have to be alert.”
They’re having mammograms every six months now, Mary said. After all, they’re only 86 years old. There’s lots of life to live yet.