Bank Leader Works Right Through Cancer Treatment - Early Stage Breast Cancer Treated in Five Days
The challenge began when a suspicious-looking area showed up on a mammogram at MeritCare in late 2006 as part of her annual checkup. "I'd always been very conscientious in getting my mammograms and checkups, so when they called and said they wanted to look at something again, I reacted positively with 'Great, that's why you do these things. I don't want you to miss anything," she says. "I'm a firm believer that if you're going to find cancer, find it early. That gives you the most options for treatment and the best chance for cure."
In Patty's case, the routine mammogram detected a very small — but significant — abnormality. "When the radiologist showed the suspicious area to me, it wasn't at all what I expected. I expected to see a lump, but instead all I saw was an area that looked like tiny grains of sand in a string," she says. "A biopsy proved those tiny grains were in fact very early stage breast cancer. Absolutely the mammogram was what picked up on it."
Early stage, more options
Because the cancer was detected early, Patty had treatment options — mastectomy (surgical removal of the entire breast) or lumpectomy (less-invasive surgery to remove the cancerous area) followed by radiation treatment.
"For early-stage breast cancer, the lumpectomy/radiation option is the current standard of treatment," says Dr. Nicolas Zouain, one of three radiation oncologists at MeritCare Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo. "It offers the same excellent chance for cure as mastectomy, but without the invasiveness."
Patty's decision became clear the more she learned. "My team at MeritCare did a great job in educating me and informing me," says Patty. "Together, we determined the best course of action would be lumpectomy followed by radiation. That has the same good results as total mastectomy. My thinking was for a few 'grains of sand,' I sure wasn't ready to go through a mastectomy."
In choosing the lumpectomy/radiation option, Patty learned of yet another advance. For appropriate patients, MeritCare now offers MammoSite™ Radiation Therapy System. MammoSite allows women to receive high-dose, targeted radiation in five consecutive days, two times a day, on an outpatient basis. Traditionally, the course of radiation following lumpectomy requires several sessions of external beam radiation therapy over a period of six to seven weeks, often posing a challenge to women who live a distance from their cancer care.
"When I found out MammoSite could shorten the length of time for radiation from six weeks to one week, that got my attention. One week out of my life is much better than six," says Patty. "I also liked the fact that with MammoSite, the radiation is more targeted. And the more targeted, the fewer the side-effects. That made sense to me."
How MammoSite works
MammoSite involves placing a small "balloon" inside the breast where the cancer was surgically removed through lumpectomy. The balloon then holds the tiny radioactive source that will emit radiation to the exact location it's needed.
"How the lumpectomy is performed is a critical step," says Dr. Zouain. "In order for MammoSite to be an option, we need an excellent fit, which is why the surgeon must be well-versed in MammoSite." Dr. Zouain, and the other radiation oncologists, work closely with Dr. Ann-Marie Hugh, MeritCare surgeon who specializes in breast surgery and is experienced in the MammoSite approach.
Once the balloon is in place, the five consecutive days of outpatient radiation treatments can follow. At the end of the five days, the balloon is deflated and painlessly removed. "Patients are pleased at being able to complete their treatment quickly and happy to get on with their lives," says Dr. Zouain. "We're also seeing reduced side-effects because of limited radiation to healthy tissue. From a quality-of-life standpoint, that's another plus."
"I worked right through it"
A self-described workaholic, Patty views the treatment in the context of her professional life. "It really worked well for me in that I was able to work right through that week of radiation," she says. "Twice a day — at 9 a.m. then again at 2:30 p.m. I'd go to the Cancer Center for a half-hour, then return to work."
Side-effects were minimal, too. "Two days after my last radiation treatment, I experienced overwhelming exhaustion," she says. "That surprised me, but by the next day, all the energy was back and I was fine."
Patty looked the same throughout her treatment — no hair loss or obvious signs of cancer treatment. Even though she could have kept her condition private, she chose to share it with others. "I'm an open person and I very much wanted the emotional support of the people I work with. I wanted them to know why I was going in and out of the office. And their prayers sure didn't hurt either," she says. "I really found the support of family, friends and coworkers to be invaluable, plus I had the support of the folks at the Cancer Center. They were all about 'Let's take care of Patty' and that was very reassuring to me."
Today, with breast-cancer treatment behind her, Patty looks forward to bright days. "This is a great time in my life and I'm loving it," she says. "The kids are grown so I'm no longer juggling kids and work, we enjoy living in Fargo and I love my job. And another one of my loves is my sports car. I drive a Mustang Cobra convertible and can't wait for those first warm days of spring."
For more information about MeritCare's MammoSite breast cancer treatment, please call (701) 234-6208 or go to meritcare.com (keyword: MammoSite).