Testimonials from Women
Phyllis' Story - Surviving Breast Cancer
In September 2006, Connie Owen of Burbank received a visit from her mother, 77-year old Phyllis Winblood. Connie anticipated spending time doing typical mother-daughter activities, such as talking, sharing lunch and shopping. Neither woman expected to find an egg-sized lump in Phyllis' breast five days before her scheduled flight home to Virginia.
"My mom is very independent. She has friends and activities that she enjoys, and she wanted to get home to them," Connie recalls. "But we had to make sure she was okay first."
With the assistance of the patient care navigator at the Providence Breast Health Center, doctors expedited a series of diagnostic tests - including a mammogram, breast ultrasound and biopsy. Test results indicated that Phyllis had early-stage breast cancer that had not spread to other parts of her body. Doctors also determined that because of the size and location of Phyllis' tumor, she was a candidate for breast brachytherapy, a technologically advanced radiation treatment that can be completed in four to five days, compared to six or seven weeks for traditional external beam radiation therapy.
"When women are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, we can offer less invasive options that are as good as older, more aggressive methods of treatment, explains Deanna J. Attai, MD, FACS, a breast surgeon affiliated with Providence Regional Cancer Centers. "With less invasive treatments, women experience less scarring, less pain and faster recovery. They can get back to their lives sooner."
With lumpectomy followed by breast brachytherapy, Dr. Attai and Phyllis' radiation oncologist, Chester Wilson, MD, medical director of radiation oncology at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, told Phyllis she could be cancer-free and ready to travel home within a couple of weeks after her surgery. Raul R. Mena, MD, medical director of Cancer Services at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, also recommended hormonal drug therapy with selective estrogen receptor modulators to decrease Phyllis' risk for cancer recurrence.
"After the doctors explained everything, my mom just changed," Connie reflects. "She had hope. Every corner that we turned we thought something bad would happen, and it didn't. It was miraculous the way things turned out."
Valerie's Story - Surviving Cervical Cancer
Valerie Dean had no symptoms, no signs of the cancer. "I went to my gynecologist for a routine Pap smear," says Valerie. "They found something the size of a pencil eraser and diagnosed it as Stage 1B Cervical Cancer."
The first step in treating Valerie's cancer was a radical hysterectomy. This can be a difficult surgery, but Valerie's doctor, Gynecologic Oncologist Richard Friedman, MD, of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, is highly skilled at performing radical hysterectomies laparascopically.
"The real advantage is it allows a faster recovery for the patient," says Friedman, one of a handful of surgeons who perform this procedure. "It is a minimally invasive procedure and shortens the patient's hospital stay."
Valerie also received care from two renowned oncologists at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center to ensure a full recovery. Raul Mena, MD, Medical Director of Cancer Services, supervised her care while she received weekly low-dose chemotherapy for six weeks. Radiation Oncologist Christopher Rose, MD, provided external beam radiation therapy five days a week during the same period.
"It was one of the best experiences of my life, not only because of the way the doctors cared for me, but also because I met so many other cancer patients who were so inspirational in how they handled their cancer treatment," says Valerie.
Three years have passed since Valerie's surgery and treatment. She remains cancer free.
Robin's Story - Southern California Mom Conquers Fear and Cancer
The First Sign...
"I had chest pain. I had stomach pain. I had shortness of breath. I knew something was really wrong with me." Still, Robin Ceppi, a busy, working mother of young children, says fear initially prevented her from seeking help. Robin had already fought and won a battle with breast cancer, but it took a serious toll on her family - husband Mike, daughter Allison and son Brian.
"I was flipped out. I knew it was bad. I even told people, 'I'm really sick.'"
Eventually, Robin shared her concerns with her primary care doctor, who immediately scheduled her for a chest X-ray. The X-ray showed a very big mass in the middle of Robin's chest. Robin remembers
having a "horrible" feeling, even before she received the results. "I knew I had cancer, and I thought that was the end of my life," Robin recalls.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States, claiming the lives of more than 550,000 Americans each year.
Following the X-ray, Robin's doctor scheduled her for a computed tomography (CT) scan to determine if the cancer had spread to other areas in her body. Following the CT scan, her oncologist suspected lymphoma and referred Robin to thoracic surgeon Raymond Schaerf, MD, who asked Robin to come to his office immediately.
"From the moment that cancer is suspected, it is absolutely critical to act quickly," emphasizes Dr. Schaerf. "The best chance for a cure is to find and surgically remove the cancer as early as possible.
In the earliest stages, the cancer is less likely to have spread."
When a biopsy of Robin's tumor generated inconclusive results, Dr. Schaerf scheduled Robin for a thoracotomy, a procedure in which he carefully employed a minimally invasive surgical technique to view Robin's chest cavity. This enabled Dr. Schaerf to examine the size of the tumor and establish if the cancer had traveled to the lymph nodes.
In a complex operation, Dr. Schaerf removed a very large tumor from Robin's mediastinum - the space between the breastbone and lungs. Fortunately, almost all of Robin's cancer was removed. Robin needed four months of chemotherapy and two weeks of radiation therapy to destroy the remaining cancer cells. Robin remembers feeling better almost immediately at the end of the therapy.
"Everything was handled expeditiously. Dr. Schaerf just exuded confidence, and that made me feel more confident," Robin says. She's been cancer-free for nearly five years.
"Robin's situation was more complicated because the cancer wasn't detected and treated in the early stages," notes Dr. Schaerf. "However, at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, we're adept at effectively treating cancer patients in all stages of the disease. Our success rates are among the best in the United States."
"I've never seen the care you get from all of the physicians and staff at Providence Saint Joseph, and I'm very critical," Robin admits. "From my doctors, to the ICU nurses, to the radiologists, to the techs - they were all so terrific. I just can't say enough."