SWFL cancer patient urges people not to put off testing due to pandemic

Even though the pandemic has upended our lives, one Southwest Florida cancer patient is warning people not to stay away from the doctor’s office. In her case, a routine visit saved her life.

Erikka Thalheimer’s mother died of breast cancer, so she’s always on top of her annual mammogram—until this year.

“March happened,” Thalheimer said. “It was a big delay.”

It’s a trend breast cancer surgeon Elizabeth Arguelles is seeing at her Naples office.

“The proportions of patients that come into our office that are either high risk with a lesion that needs to be removed or have cancer themselves, we’re down about a third compared to last year,” Arguelles said.

She says she can’t emphasize it enough: get your mammogram. But don’t take it from her; it was a mammogram that caught Erikka Thalheimer’s cancer in the microscopic stage.

“You can see these little white specs,” Arguelles said. “You can’t feel that, you’re not going to detect it on a self exam, I’m not going to be able to feel it here. That’s why a mammogram is really going to be the only test that’s going to show you these areas.”

“I’m one of the lucky ones for sure,” Thalheimer said.

Cancer caught in stage 0 has a survival rate of 99% in five years. But Thalheimer worries for those who are scared to go to the doctor. In her case, the pandemic delayed her visit until September.

“It would have been a year of possible cancer growing in me, so that is going to happen to people and that frightens me for them,” Thalheimer said.

It’s a concern her doctor shares.

“When people start going to get their imaging, I think that they are going to start seeing that there is more cancer being diagnosed because they’re just catching up,” Arguelles said. “It’s so, so important to get that screening mammogram because really it could save your life.”

“I have cancer, cancer does not have me,” Thalheimer said. She’s a founding member of the Naples Cancer Alliance, which provides services to those in treatment.

If you need a mammogram but don’t know where to go, you can visit for more resources.

Reporter:Kirstin Delgado
Writer:Joey Pellegrino
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