By Heather J. Carlson
When Mayo Clinic Dr. Janet Vittone’s friend forwarded her an e-mail about a national health contest, the doctor was tempted to hit the delete button.
"When I initially looked at it, I thought ‘Contest, oh no. I don’t even watch ‘American Idol,’" she said.
But for some reason, she didn’t move the e-mail into the trash bin. And after a few days, the breast cancer survivor started to change her mind.
"I thought, you know, I can educate women one-on-one in my office and I can give talks to 50 or 500 people. But I thought this would be a way to truly communicate the importance of self breast exams," Vittone said.
Now Vittone, 43, is one of five finalists for Prevention Magazine’s and Good Morning America’s "Picture of Health" contest. Her story will be featured in the magazine’s June issue and on "Good Morning America" this week. On Friday, she will have a live interview with the TV show’s Dr. Tim Johnson. Viewers and readers will cast votes for their favorite healthy finalist.
What makes Vittone’s story unique isn’t that she had breast cancer. Or that the mother of two started running marathons and did a triathalon after her treatment. It’s that this Mayo Clinic internist helped save the lives of her sisters and her mother.
It all began on Thanksgiving Eve in 2001. After her then two-year-old son jumped on her she felt pain in one of her breasts.
She did a breast self-exam and discovered a dimpling on one of her breasts. She was soon diagnosed with breast cancer.
She immediately called her mother and sisters in Michigan and urged them to have mammograms. Within a year, her younger sister, Jill, older sister, Julann, and her mother, Charlotte, were all diagnosed with breast cancer.
All four women have been cancer-free for five years and are planning a big celebration.
As part of the contest, Vittone submitted a one-minute video and a 250-word essay about what good health means to her. She has also been keeping a video diary for the program and was flown to New York in March for interviews and pictures.
The winner of the contest gets $10,000 — half of which will be donated to the winner’s favorite charity. In Vittone’s case, her charity of choice would be the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
But for Vittone, it’s not about winning.
"I don’t look at this as a win or lose situation," she said. "I looked at this as an opportunity to educate women and to stress the importance of self breast exams and doing yearly mammograms to save lives."
To vote for Dr. Janet Vittone, go to www.abcnewsnow.com.
Vittone’s advice for women
• All women should do monthly breast self exams. For women who are still menstruating, they should do the exams after their period ends.
• When doing the exams, look and feel for lumps, dimpling, enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits, or any nipple discharge. Also pay attention to changes in breast size.
• Women over 40 should have yearly breast exams.
• To learn more, visit www.mayoclinic.com/health/breast-cancer/DS00328/DSECTION=8