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Spotting breast cancer early: An Emory employee’s story
Antonia Gillespie

Emory employee Antonia Gillespie shares her personal story in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Emory employee Antonia Gillespie knows how important screenings like mammograms can be in detecting problems early. In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month — an annual campaign in October to increase awareness and promote regular screening and early detection of breast cancer — she shares her personal story.

Gillespie, a human resources assistant with the Central Human Resources Division, always gets yearly mammograms. When she went for her recommended annual breast cancer screening in March 2023, she expected the same negative result she’d always gotten. Instead, she received a letter requesting additional tests and, eventually, a call from Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University with the news that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“When you hear the words ‘you have cancer,’ so many things come to mind,” says Gillespie. “I have always taken care of myself, eaten the right foods, taken the best vitamins and had my yearly mammograms. So, I wondered why me, and why now, at age 62?”

When she arrived at her first appointment at Winship, Gillespie says she immediately felt surrounded by an incredible support system of doctors, social workers and nurses, who were all there to keep her informed and to encourage a positive attitude.

“Once you are diagnosed with cancer, there is a team of people who are there for you,” she says.

Gillespie was diagnosed with early-stage ductal carcinoma, a noninvasive breast cancer. This means the cells that line the milk ducts of the breast have become cancerous, but the cancer has not spread into surrounding breast tissue.

According to the American Cancer Society, almost all women with this early stage of breast cancer can be cured.

Gillespie underwent a lumpectomy in July. According to her oncologist at Winship, her prognosis could have been very different had she not kept up with her yearly mammograms.

Today, Gillespie says she is thankful her cancer was caught in the early stages. She chooses to celebrate that she has another chance at life and is grateful for each day.

However, she also emphasizes that everyone’s cancer experience is unique.

“Not all cancer patients have radiation, hormone therapy or chemotherapy; treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer and other factors,” she says. “Cancer can happen to any one of us, and no two cancer diagnoses are the same.

“What is the same across the board is that early detection can save your life.”

About mammograms

The best way to detect breast cancer early is to get regular mammograms.

Early detection provides an increased chance of recovery and a wider range of treatment options. Individuals of average risk for breast cancer should consider getting a mammogram every year beginning at age 40.

For Emory employees covered by an Emory medical plan, there is no out-of-pocket cost for an initial annual screening mammogram. Costs may apply if additional mammograms or tests are needed.

An annual mammogram is considered preventive care and is covered at 100% if in-network providers are used (Tiers 1 and 2 for the Aetna HSA and POS plans); out–of-network coverage will be subject to plan provisions after satisfying the deductible. A mammogram is also covered at 100% with the Kaiser Permanente plan.

To schedule a mammogram at the Emory Breast Imaging Center, call 404-778-7465. Aetna plan members can also search for facilities, primary care providers and specialists at or call 800-847-9026. Kaiser Permanente plan members can search for providers at or call 404-365-0966.

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