Sen­tara’s In­no­va­tive Can­cer Treat­ment Saves Weeks of Treat­ment Time

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD -

In June of 2013, Linda was cer­tain some­thing was wrong. A pas­sion­ate ele­men­tary school prin­ci­pal, she felt a drop in her typ­i­cally high energy level. For quite a while, she and her doc­tor had been mon­i­tor­ing a lump in one of her breasts. They had de­ter­mined that it wasn’t any­thing to worry about, but Linda felt her body was send­ing her a mes­sage that she needed to un­der­stand. At age 56, she made the de­ci­sion to re­tire at a much younger age than she had orig­i­nally planned.

The di­ag­no­sis

Af­ter one re­lax­ing va­ca­tion in the sum­mer of 2013, Linda’s pri­mary care physi­cian (PCP) rec­om­mended that she see a women’s imag­ing spe­cial­ist at the Sen­tara Lor­ton Sta­tion Women’s Imag­ing Cen­ter in Lor­ton, Vir­ginia. Be­cause Linda has dense breast tis­sue, the ul­tra­sound tech per­formed an ul­tra­sound on both breasts and rec­om­mended a biopsy of a 2.2-cen­time­ter lump in one of her breasts. Iron­i­cally, it was not the breast that Linda and her PCP had been mon­i­tor­ing. The clin­i­cal team also per­formed a DNA swab. If the biopsy came back pos­i­tive, then the test could be matched to her DNA. This ad­di­tional safety mea­sure would en­sure that Linda’s re­sults were shared with her, and not another pa­tient’s re­sults.

On Septem­ber 30, 2013, Linda re­ceived news that didn’t sur­prise her. The biopsy showed that she had in­va­sive duc­tile car­ci­noma. Linda’s can­cer was di­ag­nosed Stage 2, an in­ter­me­di­ate risk cat­e­gory. She now had to in­ves­ti­gate her sur­gi­cal and treat­ment op­tions, and ready her­self to fight.

“I de­cided that if I was go­ing to fight, I was go­ing to fight all the way,” she said.

The treat­ment op­tions

With her doc­tor and fam­ily by her side, Linda weighed the treat­ment op­tions. Dr. Ne­gar Gole­sorkhi, a fel­low­ship-trained breast sur­geon with the Sen­tara North­ern Vir­ginia Com­pre­hen­sive Breast Cen­ter out­lined the clin­i­cal op­tions.

“I spend an hour, some­times more, ed­u­cat­ing and coun­sel­ing my pa­tients and fam­ily with a new di­ag­no­sis of breast can­cer,” said Dr. Gole­sorkhi. “En­gag­ing the pa­tient and the fam­ily early on with de­ci­sion-mak­ing is key. An­swer­ing their ques­tions and con­cerns to the best of my abil­ity is my goal. I al­ways tell my pa­tients they are much big­ger than this dis­ease, and to­gether we will beat it.”

In ad­di­tion to in­for­ma­tion from Dr. Gole­sorkhi, Linda also met with Julie Pierce, a Sen­tara Pa­tient Nav­i­ga­tor. As an on­col­ogy cer­ti­fied nurse, Julie’s role is to pro­vide fur­ther in­for­ma­tion and sup­port to can­cer pa­tients and their loved ones.

“I met with Linda and her hus­band on the day of surgery and through­out her treat­ment,” said Julie. “I al­ways make my­self avail­able to an­swer ques­tions about pa­tients’ spe­cific dis­eases, treat­ments, and re­sources here in the com­mu­nity. In ad­di­tion, I have breast can­cer spe­cific re­sources that help the pa­tient and fam­ily through the jour­ney.”

Af­ter learn­ing that the mor­tal­ity rates for lumpec­tomy and mas­tec­tomy were al­most iden­ti­cal, Linda de­cided to go with a lumpec­tomy and chemo­ther­apy.

Dur­ing this de­ci­sion process, she also learned about a new clin­i­cal trial called In­tra­op­er­a­tive Ra­di­a­tion Ther­apy (IORT). IORT is a 10-minute ra­di­a­tion treat­ment that is per­formed at the time of surgery for can­di­dates who meet strict clin­i­cal cri­te­ria that are eval­u­ated prior to surgery. If Linda qual­i­fied, she would be able to avoid the need for any ad­di­tional ra­di­a­tion ther­apy. The typ­i­cal course for ex­ter­nal beam ra­di­a­tion ther­apy for breast can­cer pa­tients runs six to seven weeks. While Linda was hope­ful about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of IORT, she wouldn’t know if it could be ad­min­is­tered un­til af­ter she was out of surgery.

Just over a month af­ter her can­cer di­ag­no­sis, Linda went in for surgery at Sen­tara North­ern Vir­ginia Med­i­cal Cen­ter. When Linda woke up, she learned that she was a per­fect can­di­date for IORT, and the ther­apy had been ad­min­is­tered. She was on her way to re­cov­ery.

“I felt so blessed that I re­ceived this treat­ment,” she said. “I was the 21st per­son in the state of Vir­ginia to re­ceive this treat­ment. Sen­tara North­ern Vir­ginia Med­i­cal Cen­ter is one of the few places to of­fer this treat­ment, and I was com­pletely im­pressed with their level of care from be­gin­ning to end. They know me and treat me as a per­son, not just a pa­tient.”

Post-surgery

Linda ex­pe­ri­enced many of the clas­sic side ef­fects of chemo­ther­apy. Be­cause she had cho­sen to do a lumpec­tomy, her dose of chemo­ther­apy was more ag­gres­sive than it would have been had she elected to have a mas­tec­tomy. Ev­ery two weeks from Jan­uary through mid-April, Linda went in for her chemo­ther­apy treat­ments and a course of steroids. Chemo­ther­apy caused a lot of dry­ness in her di­ges­tive sys­tem, some of it so se­vere that she of­ten had dif­fi­culty eat­ing. The chemo­ther­apy de­pleted her energy and also made it hard to sleep. She learned af­ter the sec­ond treat­ment, she would lose her hair. Rather than let that hap­pen, she shaved her head im­me­di­ately af­ter her first treat­ment.

“Shav­ing my head on my terms helped me to feel more in con­trol of my fu­ture,” she said. “I called my shaved head my ‘war­rior look’. I wanted to deal with this chal­lenge head-on.”

Cop­ing with chemo­ther­apy

When Linda re­counts the long months of the win­ter of 2014, she points to sev­eral im­por­tant fac­tors that con­trib­uted to her in­ner strength and re­solve to fight.

“The nurses at the in­fu­sion cen­ter were marvelous. So sup­port­ive. So com­pas­sion­ate. Their care was crit­i­cal to my suc­cess­ful treat­ment.”

Linda also had a tremen­dous sup­port net­work that in­cluded fam­ily, friends, and faith.

“Walk­ing from the couch to the kitchen took a lot of ef­fort, but I made my­self do it. Ev­ery day, I did some kind of ex­er­cise. I used my tread­mill and did laps around the house while I was on the phone. Friends, es­pe­cially the teach­ers and staff from my school, brought meals for me and my fam­ily. My hus­band was so pa­tient and sup­port­ive.”

This kind of ex­ter­nal sup­port helped Linda to strengthen her own per­sonal re­solve to keep fight­ing.

“I let my faith be­come stronger than my fear. Can­cer may have got­ten me down, but I wasn’t go­ing to let it take me out.”

Life af­ter can­cer

Now two years af­ter her di­ag­no­sis and a year and a half af­ter the end of chemo­ther­apy, Linda feels in­cred­i­ble. Her fa­tigue has sub­sided and her energy is back. She’s ac­tively work­ing on tak­ing off the weight that she gained be­cause of the chemo­ther­apy. Her hair has grown back even thicker and curlier than be­fore.

“I’m shar­ing my story to give other peo­ple hope. Lis­ten to your body. It knows when some­thing is wrong. This jour­ney is hard, but it’s not im­pos­si­ble.”

About this sec­tion: This spe­cial advertising sec­tion was pre­pared by in­de­pen­dent writer Christa Rose Avam­pato. The pro­duc­tion of this sec­tion did not in­volve the news or ed­i­to­rial staff of The Washington Post.

Mak­ing Strides Against Breast CancerWalk in Point Pleas­ant, New Jersey, Oc­to­ber 2014, six months af­ter fin­ish­ing my chemo. I made it to the fin­ish line...one of the last ones, but I fin­ished!

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