MASON CITY | In 2014, Mason City Clinic surgeon Dr. Steven Allgood sat down with Tiffani Ward of Clear Lake, who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“He gave me a hug and said ‘We’ll get through this together,’” Ward said.
As a Mason City Clinic surgeon and medical director of the Mercy Breast Center of North Iowa, Allgood is passionate about breast cancer care, since he has felt the effects personally. He lost his wife to breast cancer three years ago.
“He’s the sweetest man I know,” Ward said. “I didn’t realize at the time he had been through it himself. He’s really passionate about breast cancer awareness in general.”
Allgood, who started at the Mason City Clinic in 1992, leads the Breast Cancer Review Conference, a group of medical specialists from the Mason City Clinic and Mercy Medical Center-North Iowa who meet regularly and discuss the best treatment for their patients.
The conference includes primary care providers, radiologists, pathologists, general surgeons, plastic surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists, to deliver a full range of services on one campus in Mason City.
“I know people who have to drive to Mayo Clinic because they don’t have an option,” Ward said. “We have the option, thank goodness.”
In March 2014, Ward first felt a lump. Since she works as a medical assistant at Mercy’s Regency Clinic, she was able to be examined by a doctor the next day. The doctor told her to get a mammogram. She was 35 at the time.
“Normally women don’t get mammograms until they’re 40 years old and that’s when insurance starts to pay for them unless there’s a problem,” Ward said. “So if I had waited until I was 40 to get a mammogram I would be dead.”
The radiologist took a look at the x-ray and knew it was cancer.
“My stomach just dropped,” Ward said. “I thought, 'I’m too young for this.'”
After the initial shock, Ward’s next thought was what’s the next step?
Dr. Mark Mulkey is Mason City Clinic’s reconstructive surgeon. In Ward’s case, Mulkey and Allgood had the option to work together as a team so she would only have one surgery.
“I expected to be kind of a number,” Ward said. “He asked me ‘What do you feel comfortable with?’ It was all about me.”
Before the surgery, Ward had to go through chemotherapy. Her oncologist was able to schedule everything so she could still work to support her kids.
“I am so blessed to say I’m cancer-free now,” Ward said. “It was a difficult year, but it gives you an absolutely amazing outlook on life. I seriously want to give everybody I meet a hug who has gone through this.”
Allgood described Ward as resilient and said her attitude greatly helped her.
“So very positive,” Allgood said. “You walk in the room and she lifts you up.”
Ward said when she went into the diagnosis and treatment process, she couldn’t let herself think that she was going to die.
“You can’t think about the whys of how you got there. You just have to think about the future and where you go from there,” Ward said. “When your 10-year-old asks you ‘Mom, are you going to die?’ No, absolutely not, Faith! This is just a bump in the road and we’re going to get through this together.”
Ward emphasized the importance of preventative care and early detection, especially with her experience as a medical assistant and a cancer survivor.
“Go get that mammogram, go get that colonoscopy,” Ward said. “That’s a good thing, that’s a preventative thing!”