Linda McIntosh, 57, poses with her Pomeranian, Trinka Bell.
Linda McIntosh, 57, poses with her Pomeranian, Trinka Bell. McIntosh credits a routine mammogram with saving her life. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

“Why me?”

“Am I going to die?”

“I’m too young to have cancer.”

These were the first thoughts that went through Linda McIntosh’s mind when a routine mammogram led to the discovery of an aggressive form of breast cancer in the 57-year-old Ludington resident.

Without any form of insurance, it had been nearly 10 years since McIntosh had a mammogram.

With the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, she was able to join millions of Americans who qualified for health insurance.

With her new insurance in hand, McIntosh decided her first order of business would be a long overdue visit to the Women’s Imaging Center at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital for a mammogram. It was October 2014—Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“As soon as they did the mammogram, they knew something was there,” McIntosh said. “They did more testing and that’s when they found the cancer. There were actually two separate masses in the same breast.”

When she received the official diagnosis from her doctor, McIntosh was shocked. She had many of the same concerns and fears that other patients have when they hear that phrase, “You have cancer.” But as soon as the initial shock wore off, McIntosh set out to fight a battle she refused to lose.

“I immediately told myself that I was going to beat this,” she said. “I wasn’t going to let cancer win. I was going to do whatever I needed to do in order to keep living.”

McIntosh immediately started chemotherapy at the Spectrum Health Cancer Center at Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital and her oncologist, Carol Peterson, MD, ordered a lumpectomy to surgically remove the cancer.

After two sessions of chemo, radiation and surgery, McIntosh can happily say she is cancer free thanks to the care she received.

“The people were wonderful. I couldn’t have had better care anywhere,” she said. “From the girls in the Women’s Imaging Center to Dr. Peterson and her staff, they all assured me that everything was going to be OK. Their care and compassion made me feel like I was the most important person there.”

McIntosh is quick to admit she delayed getting a mammogram because she had been concerned about her lack of insurance and the cost. She knows other women may have similar concerns—and some may even fear the test will hurt.

But she now recognizes that early detection is the best protection.

“If I hadn’t gone to get my mammogram when I did, it’s possible I wouldn’t be here right now,” McIntosh said. “And women shouldn’t be afraid to have a mammogram. I hear women complaining how it hurts to have a mammogram. But let me tell you something: It hurts a lot more to have cancer and go through surgery, chemo and radiation.”

With a clean bill of health, McIntosh is back doing the things she loves.

She’s working with children as part of her job in food services at Mason County Eastern Schools. She’s spending time at the beach. She’s taking walks. She’s living each day to its fullest with her best friend, Trinka Bell, the beloved Pomeranian who never leaves her side.

“I feel like I’ve started my life over,” McIntosh said. “I’ve been given a second chance.”