Erin Gratsch was the picture of health. Or so she thought.
An accomplished runner, she has completed 54 marathons, along with a full Ironman Triathlon and countless other tests of endurance. At the age of 45, Erin was eating healthy and had no symptoms.
She was in peak form in 2016, having run the Boston Marathon and the Flying Pig Marathon. The last thing on her mind was the possibility of breast cancer.
A few weeks after the Flying Pig, a spur-of-the-moment decision to have a mammogram saved Erin’s life.
She shares her journey with others from both a personal and professional perspective. In addition to being a two-time cancer survivor, she also coordinates our ministry’s mobile mammography program in our Cincinnati market.
“I’m pretty much the walking poster child of why you should do mammograms and self-breast exams,” Erin says.
One in eight women in the United States are diagnosed with breast cancer, which is the second-leading cause of cancer death in women. There are also more than 4 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.
In the time preceding her mammogram, Erin’s life was quite hectic. She often took her mom to chemotherapy to treat a rare form of inoperable ductal cancer. Ultimately, she lost her mom on New Year’s Eve morning in 2014.
About five months later, Erin ran some errands and saw a mobile mammography unit parked by a grocery store. Erin knew she was overdue for a screening and decided to knock on the door.
Although she didn’t have an appointment, Erin was warmly invited in.
“I later found out she had actually stayed late for me,” Erin shares. “They were just getting ready to leave, and they turned on the equipment again just to do my mammogram … and it saved my life.”
After an abnormality was found during the screening, Erin then needed a biopsy. The same caring technologist was by her side. Results determined Erin had an aggressive form of cancer, and she underwent a mastectomy on her left side.
Erin became a fierce advocate for breast health at her running events and elsewhere in the community. She maintained a friendship with her technologist, who alerted her to a job opening in the program.
Since 2020, she has coordinated our Cincinnati mobile mammography program.
Erin remained cancer-free until the summer of 2022, when a self-exam found a lump on the same side as her mastectomy. A more aggressive form of breast cancer had returned, which required a robust treatment plan with chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.
During her long treatment – which concluded in July of this year — she combined the mental toughness from her running experience with the same positive attitude she had witnessed with her mom’s cancer battle.
Now, Erin is more determined than ever to share her experience and inspire more women to be mindful of their breast health. Our two Cincinnati mobile mammography vans are scheduled throughout the tri-state, often in areas that are underserved.
“I can’t tell you how many times I hear a woman say, ‘I wouldn’t have had my mammogram if you weren’t here,’” Erin shares. “That’s why my work is so important to me and it’s why I do what I do. I know every day when I go to work, we’re saving lives.”
Who should get screened for breast cancer? According to the American College of Radiology women over the age of 40 should have. If you are under age 40 but have a family history of breast cancer, talk to your doctor about when you need to get screened. Also, men who have breast masses should be evaluated similarly to women, including mammograms.
Learn more about the mammograms and breast imaging services we provide at Mercy Health.