You can’t watch NFL football this month without noticing the bright pink shoes in honor of breast cancer awareness month. Most of us have someone in our own family or immediate group of friends who has been challenged with this disease. Thankfully, early detection is better than ever with enhanced diagnosis and treatment. A recent technological advancement is the new state-of-the-art Tomosynthesis 3D imaging which is a notable upgrade to traditional digital, 2D mammography. This technology is able to assess dense breast tissue and identify potential abnormalities better than ever before. HCA’s Johnston-Willis and Henrico Doctors’ Hospital are the first and only hospitals in Richmond metropolitan area to have this technology.
This week I wanted to make breast cancer more personal so I asked for an employee who would be willing to share their personal story. RN Barbara Standard’s name quickly came to light not only for her personal fight against breast cancer, but also because of her role as our Chippenham & Johnston-Willis Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator. She has been in this role for 6 years and been an oncology nurse for over 30 with HCA. As the Navigator, Barbara reaches out to women who have initial abnormal findings in their mammogram to ensure they get linked into additional screening and treatment when necessary. The fact is about 30% of mammograms come back abnormal. Thankfully, only 15-20% of those are actually positive for breast cancer.
In Barbara’s case she was having her routine mammogram on her birthday in 2011. The results came back abnormal and they asked her to come in to have additional imaging views. Dr. Jackie Hogg, radiologist, was intimately involved in the case and coordinated with Dr. Ruth Felson, breast surgeon, to make the final diagnosis of invasive ductile cancer – one of the most common forms of breast cancer. Barbara eventually had six surgeries, including a lumpectomy and mastectomy, in addition to radiation and chemotherapy for a year. Barbara shared with me that as an employee she always knew what a good place Johnston-Willis (JW) Hospital was for care. But after becoming a patient she soon came to realize that it was a really a great place when you are a patient too.
She said, “Once you become a cancer patient it is humbling because what you thought you knew about cancer was really not that much. It was very enlightening and gave me a different perspective. Coming to an advanced breast cancer center like JW was really important. It puts in place all the right people and the latest technology in one place and walks the patient though all the important steps of getting diagnosed and treated. I was always someone who would schedule my life way in advance. I now know that each day is a blessing. Every day that I get up and put my feet on the floor is a good day. It helped me prioritize my life.”
She emphasized the advice we hear so often but sometimes fail to follow: “Do your mammogram every year and be sure to conduct breast self-exams routinely as recommended by American Cancer Society”. Today, every abnormal mammogram patient gets a personal call from Barbara to talk about next steps. In the past, patients would receive a letter (sometimes on weekends) and be left to figure out what to do next. Thankfully, they now always have Barbara to call.
Barbara emphasizes the importance and power of a strong support network. Through her experience, she came to realize that the employees and doctors at Johnston-Willis were like family. She believes in the importance of getting involved in support groups, like the ones held by Robin Yoder at Johnston-Willis every Wednesday. The first group is for newly diagnosed patients and the second is for long term support.
I asked Barbara what the biggest misconception is about breast cancer and she said, “People think when they hear ‘cancer’ that it’s a death sentence. Once they realize how many survivors there are they get hope. They often think they won’t be able to work but the fact is a lot of people will be able to work through much of the treatment.”
If you want to call Barbara for advice she is willing to help at 804-267-6243. I am pleased to report that today, she is healthy and doing great. If you are a woman over 40 years old, I encourage you to make sure you get your annual mammogram as that is the best way to stay informed about your personal health.
If you would like to share your breast cancer story or experience, please feel free to do so as a reply to the blog.