Wendy Hinckle

Wendy Hinckle

She’s got a spring in her step and a gleam in her eye. While that’s nearly always been true of Wendy Hinckle, there’s now an unmistakable air of gratitude behind her smile.

It’s the kind of expression that tells a story all on its own.

“I feel so lucky,” beams the retired elementary school teacher.

“I’ve had mammograms regularly since I was probably 40.” As the years passed, Hinckle’s friends began their private battles with breast cancer. “Statistically, I became a bit fearful of what the results of my own tests might be.”

Last year, at age 68, she received the news she’d been dreading.

“I got a call from KVH that something was spotted and they needed an ultrasound,” recalls Hinckle. “So I had my ultrasound the day before I went to Arizona for the winter.”

In November 2017, a little over a year after The Foundation at KVH began its focused campaign to bring digital mammography to Kittitas County, KVH Hospital went online with the service.

In January, Hinckle underwent a biopsy in Tucson. On February 6, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Grade 1, stage 1, level 1. Thank God.” The cancer had been caught in its early stages.

What she learned next was shocking.

According to the radiation oncologist, “I’d probably had the cancer for 5-8 years,” said Hinckle. What she heard from other Arizona providers supported that claim. “One doctor said it wouldn’t have been picked up on a traditional mammography unit because it was so small,” she remembers. “Another said because of where it was located, it might not have been picked up earlier.”

Two weeks after the diagnosis, Hinckle had a lumpectomy, followed by 20 days of radiation. Upon returning to Ellensburg, her oncology care resumed at Yakima’s North Star Lodge, with checkups every three months, and a mammogram just before the one-year mark.

“I’m not a super dynamo, I don’t have a huge amount of energy. I just have to manage my time,” says Hinckle, who stays active as a rule and even found a way to keep busy during her cancer treatments, focusing on training her shih tzu, Yumi, for novice and intermediate tricks certification. “The day after I was diagnosed, I went to the tricks class and we started training. It was great because it kept my mind off of what I was going through.”

Today, Hinckle stays active in the local SAIL program, and enjoys tai chi. “I also love to play games,” she admits, meeting each week for pinochle with a group that includes other retired teachers. And while she and her husband Kirk flee to warmer climes each winter, Hinckle maintains her deep roots in Kittitas County, where she’s served as a Gallery One board member for nearly two decades. A lifelong lover of the arts, her pride in the gallery’s current direction is evident: “We’re really getting involved with schools now and reaching out to the community.”

That’s the passion of a teacher with plans to give and grow, for many years to come. It’s also why she’s happy to share her cancer story – so that others can learn. “I strongly encourage women to get mammograms,” she says, recalling a friend who recently had her first mammogram after learning of Hinckle’s experience.

“I really want to express my gratitude to KVH – the hospital and the foundation – for raising the money for digital mammography,” says Hinckle. “For seeing that Ellensburg needed to catch up with the technology that’s out there, because it’s possible if I would have had another traditional scan, it would have been missed again.”

Related: Life after 50: the happy years (interview with local SAIL program director Carol Findley)