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Our Patients Say it Best

Your friends and neighbors from throughout southwest Michigan and beyond share their experiences at Spectrum Health Lakeland. Do you have a story to share? Click on the "What's Your Story" button and complete the form. 

May 10, 2021 Reporting from Niles, MI
Putting yourself first - Shari Ahlgrim
May 10, 2021
As a wife and working mother of three children, 51-year-old Niles resident, Shari Ahlgrim, was often thinking of other people’s needs before her own. Unfortunately, this was also true when it came to her health. Because of her busy lifestyle, and kno

Putting yourself first - Shari Ahlgrim

SpectrumHealth Lakeland

Putting yourself first - Shari Ahlgrim

May, 2021

Physicians: Ginard Henry, MD; Gerald Kozuh, MDRoy Winslow, MD

As a wife and working mother of three children, 51-year-old Niles resident, Shari Ahlgrim, was often thinking of other people’s needs before her own. Unfortunately, this was also true when it came to her health. Because of her busy lifestyle, and knowing breast cancer didn’t run in her family, she would tend to put off her annual mammogram appointment, or some years skip it all together.

However, when she discovered a lump in her left breast, she had a gut feeling something wasn’t right. Shari scheduled a mammogram which led to an ultrasound-guided needle biopsy within the same week. The biopsy results confirmed her suspicions—it was stage 2 breast cancer.

“I was amazed at how quickly my care team was able to get me in for an initial appointment and provide a diagnosis all within the same week,” said Shari. “Soon after hearing the news, I met with oncology nurse navigator, Shelley Wilkinson, who helped guide me through the whole process and what the next steps would be.” 

Additional tests were performed to determine the specific type of breast cancer Shari had. Her lymph nodes came back clean which meant she wouldn’t need radiation treatments. It was also determined that since recurrence of the cancer was unlikely, she wouldn’t need to undergo chemotherapy. Shari would, however, need to have surgery.

“After discussing it with my husband and my doctors, the decision to have a mastectomy was a no-brainer,” said Shari.

Shari met with general surgeon, Roy Winslow, MD, and plastic surgeon, Ginard Henry, MD. The specialists would operate at the same time to remove the cancerous cells and place a tissue expander which would be the first step in eventually being able to reconstruct Shari’s breast.

“[Drs.] Henry and Winslow were so kind and empathic,” said Shari. “They treated me like I was their own sister or mother. You could tell they both really cared and wanted the best outcome for me. My husband and I felt very confident in the decisions we were making.”

After undergoing surgery, Shari returned home. With the help of homecare nurses, she began to adjust to her new normal.

“It was devastating when I first realized my breast was no longer part of my body,” said Shari. “It was a very emotional experience, but I knew I needed to stay positive for my family. I really valued the fact that I could call my care team with any questions or concerns I had, and I never felt rushed. They acted like I was their only patient, and I had their undivided attention.”

In the months that followed, the tissue expander was gradually filled with a saline solution to help stretch the skin and prepare the breast area for a permanent implant. Five months after her initial surgery, Shari visited Stonegate Plastic Surgery of Lakeland where Dr. Henry performed breast reconstruction surgery.

“As women, we often don’t realize what a significant role our breasts play in shaping our identity,” said Shari. “It was nice to have a care team who understood my situation and helped me get through it.”

It’s been nearly two years since her original cancer diagnosis and now when Shari looks in the mirror, she feels confident in the woman staring back at her.

“My scars are barely visible on the outside, but on the inside, I am a much stronger person now,” said Shari. “I am so thankful I was in the right place, at the right time, and trusted the right people to take care of me.”

Shari continues to follow up with oncologist, Gerald Kozuh, MD, every six months. She is also diligent about getting an annual mammogram on her right breast and encourages all women to do the same.

“I will never forget the look on my husband’s face when we received the news of my diagnosis and the fear that he was going to have to do it all by himself,” said Shari. “You have to put yourself first, because if you don’t you may not be around someday to care for the people you love.”

Getting a yearly mammogram is a vital step in early detection of breast cancer. To learn more, or schedule a yearly mammogram, click here


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