Mammograms save DL resident's life twice

October is breast cancer awareness month, Donna Sauvageau shares her breast cancer stories.

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Donna Sauvageau, Detroit Lakes, is looking forward to ringing the bell at Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo, N.D. for the second time. The 1979 Detroit Lakes High School graduate, who married John Sauvageau, a 1980 DLHS grad, explained when the bell rings it signifies a person has beat cancer.
Contributed / Donna Sauvageau

DETROIT LAKES – The first time Donna Sauvageau was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was 34 and had three children under the age of eight. While the cancer required a complete mastectomy of the breast where the tumor was found, she considered herself lucky.

At the time, the 1979 Detroit Lakes High School graduate was working as a nurse. During lunch, a discussion began with her co-worker.

“She suggested I go in for a baseline mammogram,” Sauvageau recalled. “It was out of the blue, and she kept mentioning it (all week). I never had it in my family, so I put it off.”

According to the American Cancer Society’s article, “ Breast Cancer Risk Factors You Cannot Change up to 10% of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary.

Sauvageau’s friend persisted and even contacted her when a mammogram appointment was canceled.


“I told her I would, if that would get her off my back,” Sauvageau said.

The mammogram found invasive Stage 3 cancer. She said her doctor told her it would’ve likely gone undetected until it was too late, had she forgone her yearly screening.

“To this day, I call her my guardian angel,” she said of her former colleague who encouraged her to get a mammogram.

Sara Skalin, the lead mammography tech at Essentia Health in Detroit Lakes, reported that on average, the hospital provides 3,300 mammograms annually, or between 250-300 per month. Of those, the yearly cancer detection rate is about 18 per 1,000 patients, or about 55 patients.

In addition to traditional mammography technology, Essentia offers 3D mammograms. Skalin said the new technology is for all women, but especially helpful for women with dense breast tissue.

“Which accounts for 40% of all women,” she explained, adding other prime candidates include “women who need a baseline (first) mammogram to serve as the basis for comparison in later exams, women with family history of breast cancer and women with a personal history of breast cancer.”

Nathan Aamodt, the senior media relations specialist for Sanford, reported the Detroit Lakes Clinic only screens about 200 women per month and less than 1% result in a positive result for cancer. Sanford in Detroit Lakes also offers 3D screening.

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Donna Sauvageau was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time in August. She applauded the many groups who provide kindness and gifts to patients undergoing treatment at Roger Maris Cancer Society in Fargo, N.D. One provided a cross and another gifted flowers.<br/>

Sauvageau underwent treatment and had a breast reconstruction. She considered removing both breasts at the same time, as she was concerned that cancer would show up in the other one. However, she was assured that was not likely. Then, it happened.


“I was so angry,” she said. “I thought, I could’ve prevented this years ago. But, I learned that it wouldn’t have mattered, after all, because it was a different kind of cancer.”

Cancer, her second time around, was found so early that it was given a Stage 0 classification and confined to a small area.

The 64-year-old began treatment once again, which included radiation and about five years of a medication that decreases estrogen, which feeds the particular kind of cancer she is currently fighting.

“A friend of mine, who also had breast cancer twice, described it perfectly,” Sauvageau said. “The first time you go through it, it is physically draining. The second time you are an emotional train wreck — angry, sad and terrified. I felt the same.”

Much like the first go around, Sauvageau was appreciative of the support offered by loved ones. This time she also found more assistance from other agencies, including support from cancer survivors to whom she could talk about the experience.

That wasn’t offered the first time,” she said. “I had to navigate it on my own.”

Sauvageau decided this time she would share her story. The first battle she kept private, sharing the diagnosis only with her family and closest friends. This time, she took her experience to social media.

“People need to know (mammograms are important),” she said. “If someone was using the pandemic to not do routine check-ups, it’s time to get scheduled (to see a doctor). Yeah, mammograms are uncomfortable for a minute, but saving your life is worth a little discomfort. It saved my life twice.”

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