Breast cancer survivor urges patients to be their own best advocates

Rachael Richardson stands smiling, wearing a pink sweater and headband, in front of a decorative hedge

If you're not sure about something you’re feeling, or you're not sure what's recommended, it’s important that you ask your primary care provider

Rachael Richardson

“Telling my story is one thing I can do to help educate and care for the people in my life, community, and beyond,” says Rachael Richardson, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2022 at the age of 35.

Richardson has worked as a receptionist at Cheshire Medical Center for more than 9 years, so she has particular regard for the quality of care she has received at the Dartmouth Cancer Center at Cheshire—and for the importance of breast cancer awareness.

“I feel very fortunate for the care that I've had over the past year, from the General Surgery team to the Oncology folks to the people in Outpatient Physical Therapy,” she said. “It really made me appreciate that much more the amazing work we do at Cheshire every day.”

Richardson even went on to play a central role in supporting a fundraiser for a new mammography machine at the hospital (see recent article in The Keene Sentinel), including participating in a promotional video and writing a personal letter to prospective donors. She continues to advocate for breast cancer awareness based on her own perspective.

“Rachael is a prime example of taking steps for early detection,” says Meloney Hayward, RT(R)(M)(ARRT), mammography supervisor at Cheshire. “Yearly mammograms are essential in finding breast cancers early. She knew her risk. Rachael identified a lump, which she knew wasn’t normal. She acted quickly, which helped lead her to a faster diagnosis.”

Richardson says, “I advocate for people to take care of all their routine preventative care, including yearly mammograms. There's so much technology now, and we're so fortunate that we can catch things a lot sooner than we used to be able to. It's just very important to be in tune with yourself, and if something feels off, we all have to be our own best advocates.”

In addition to yearly mammograms, Richardson recommends performing breast self-exams monthly to know what feels normal for you.

“I think the most important thing with breast self-exams comes down to consistency,” she says. “Whether you set a reminder in your planner or a note on your calendar, the more you do self-exams, the more comfortable you’ll get with your body and noticing any changes.”

She also advocates for understanding your individual risk levels. She had a family history of breast cancer, so she has been closely followed by Cheshire’s nationally accredited Breast Care Center since the age of 31, making her early detection, diagnosis, and treatment all the more successful.

“Breast cancer does not discriminate,” Hayward says. “One woman in eight will battle breast cancer in their lifetime. Knowing your personal risk, and having shared decision-making with your provider to manage that risk, is a key component in your health journey.”

“If you're not sure about something you’re feeling, or you're not sure what's recommended, it’s important that you ask your primary care provider the question,” Richardson says. “There are all sorts of folks here at Cheshire to help people navigate the screening process.”

Address new breast changes right away through a primary care provider (PCP) or OB/GYN provider, and schedule routine mammograms directly without a referral through the patient portal or by calling 603-354-6580.

Richardson is pleased that sharing her story has prompted a friend and colleague with a family history of breast cancer to begin taking steps for her own early screening.

“She said my story pushed her to say, ‘It's important to invest in myself, too.’ Even on the days that it gets a little overwhelming to be as vocal as I am with my story, it's reasons like this that I won't ever stop.”

Learn more about Cheshire Medical Center’s nationally accredited Breast Care Center. To schedule a mammogram or other breast screening at Cheshire, call 603-354-6580.