By Margie M. Palmer
San Carlos resident beats breast cancer
In the 1970s, Janet Chelberg-Burgess helped blaze new trails for females in local law enforcement when she became one of the first women to work street patrol duty for the San Diego Police Department.
She’s since retired from the force, but Chelberg-Burgess continues to battle a new, dangerous foe.
The North Park native and longtime San Carlos resident was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer earlier this year.
“I had a mammogram in January that came back abnormal so I had to have a biopsy. I had to wait over the weekend to get the results. When my doctor called me on Monday morning to say she needed me to come in and see her that morning, I knew she was going to tell me in person that I had breast cancer,” she said. “My only consolation was knowing that I get my annual [mammogram] every January, so maybe this is something that had been growing for six months.”
The biopsy revealed she has a gene that can cause breast cancer cells to grow at an accelerated rate; within 24 hours of the diagnosis, she was surrounded by an integrated team of cancer care specialists.
Things moved quickly from there.
“Over the course of the next two weeks, I was in and out of so many different facilities having MRIs and CAT Scans, because before I could start chemo [the doctors] needed to make sure there was no cancer anywhere else in my body,” she said. “The scary part was wondering if they’d find a spot here, or there, or maybe I’d be full of it.”
Luckily, the test results came back negative; the cancer had not spread.
Chelberg-Burgess underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and targeted drug therapy before she went in for surgery. During the operation, her doctors found the tumor had virtually melted away.
Follow-up tests found she was clear of cancer.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and, not surprisingly Chelberg-Burgess has an important message to share.
“Women can’t back down on getting their mammograms. I have encouraged many women to get themselves screened regularly, after hearing they have put things off because they heard it can be uncomfortable or are afraid of what the outcome might be,” she said. “I have friends who are going to different healthcare providers and so many of them have [their screenings] come back clear and their doctors say, ‘Ok, we’ll see you in two years. If I had waited two years, I’d be dying or dead. My cancer was aggressive and aggressive cancers often respond very well to treatment. They’re fast growing but they can be fast to go away.”
Scripps Radiation Therapy Center medical director Dr. Ray Lin is among the physicians that treated Chelberg-Burgess. He said he feels privileged to have been able to care for her.
“Janet is an amazing individual who has a 30-year track record of taking care of others in our community as a police officer and criminal investigator in San Diego,” he said. “She has a positive attitude and wonderful, generous spirit. She placed her trust in her medical team and complied with all treatment recommendations. Thankfully, she had an excellent response to therapy. She is now a breast cancer survivor.”
For more information on Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit nationalbreastcancer.org. For information on Scripps cancer care, visit scripps.org/services/cancer-care.
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines for over a decade. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.