Dr. Anita Schnapp is feeling well as she recovers from a mastectomy to treat breast cancer. She knows it sounds odd to say she caught a break with the discovery of cancer, but that’s how she feels about doctors finding the tumor in a very early stage despite the fact she had put off undergoing a mammogram. And she has learned the support system that surrounds her at home and at Mercy Hospital South is invaluable.
Not Following Her Own Advice
“I had no risk factors. I’m healthy. I have no family history. I exercise daily. I’ve never been a smoker. I nursed my babies. Of course, I’m not going to get breast cancer, so I thought I don’t necessarily have to go get my mammogram. And I was wrong,” said Dr. Schnapp, a Mercy Clinic obstetrician/gynecologist with . “It was just me not following the guidelines I put out there every single day to my patients.”
Dr. Schnapp is hoping to turn her own experience into the inspiration other women need to undergo regular mammograms, which is why she wants everyone to know her story.
In May, Dr. Schnapp underwent her first mammogram in five years.
“I can’t even blame the pandemic,” Dr. Schnapp said. “I think the fact that I turned 50 last year hit me a little bit. I thought, ‘I need to start getting a little more serious about this.’ So, I went.”
An incisional biopsy in June allowed physicians to confirm the diagnosis: early-stage cancer.
“Had I waited another five years, who knows what would have happened. And I, of all people, know better. Yet, that’s what I did.”
“Health conditions can be very private, and people have very different views on how much they want to share,” Dr. Schnapp said.
“I’m a physician. I’m supposed to be the caregiver. I’m supposed to be taking care of people, not having people take care of me.
“I also thought about whether people are going to treat me differently. Are people going to feel weird around me? Does anybody want to know? Because people don’t like to talk about the ‘c’ word. So, you’re hesitant to say, ‘Hey, by the way, I have cancer.’”
What Dr. Schnapp found was tremendous support from her family, friends and co-workers.
“Once I did start sharing with people, it was overwhelming how many comments and phone calls and texts and cards in the mail and people I haven’t heard from in years reaching out. All of that support is going to help in ways that you don’t even realize as it’s happening.
“The amount of love and support I’ve received has been amazing.”
Her entire clinic team and everyone at Mercy Birthplace – South bought and wore t-shirts reading “Her fight is our fight.” They hosted a lunch in her honor.
Dr. Schnapp is a triathlete. Her surgeries will keep her from swimming for a while, but she can still ride her bike, which means she can ride to help raise money for cancer research. Dr. Schnapp will be taking part in Pedal the Cause in September. She joined the team of a friend whose daughter had leukemia. She has already raised more than $5,000 through her participation.
“I debated for a little bit how public I wanted to be with this,” she said. “If I can tell people, ‘Get your mammograms and here’s why’ then it’s worth it. And if I can raise some money for cancer research and get women to get their mammograms, then absolutely.”
“Just Get Your Mammogram”
On Aug. 3, Dr. Schnapp delivered three babies at Mercy South.
The next day, she underwent a mastectomy performed by Dr. Beth Snell, a Mercy Clinic breast surgeon. Dr. Schnapp is recovering and on track to return to caring for her own patients two and a half weeks after surgery.
She will return to the operating room in December to undergo reconstruction, which will mean six more weeks at home for recovery.
But because her breast cancer was in such an early stage, she is avoiding chemotherapy and radiation. And that is at the heart of what Dr. Schnapp wants women to learn from her.
“Just get your mammogram. You have to get your screenings in because with this being detected early, I’m going to have surgery and I’ll be done. In that respect, I’m very fortunate. Had I not gone this year, it would be a whole different story.
“If you are late, go get it. And if you are very, very late, don’t be embarrassed by that because waiting only makes you later. I have patients who say, ‘Oh gosh, it’s been so long since I’ve been in, I’m embarrassed to go now.’ Don’t be embarrassed, just go.”