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Published on September 03, 2015

Celebrating Life

Homer Glen Woman faces Breast Cancer with the Strong Coordinated Support of her Palos Medical Team, Faith and Family

Mary’s faith is strong and so is
her support system, which
she relied heavily on after
being diagnosed with breast
cancer. Join us Saturday,
September 26, for Survive &
Thrive: Cancer Survivors Day
to learn more about the
cancer survivorship resources
available at Palos.

Mary’s journey with breast cancer began long before her own diagnosis last fall. She lost her mother to the same illness when she was about 60, the age Mary is now.

“I said a lot of prayers and I talked to my mom in heaven a lot,” says Mary, whom she believes helped her get through the most challenging moments during treatment. “When I began my second round of chemotherapy in November, all the flowers were gone with the exception of one tall yellow flower on a dead bush in my front walkway. It stayed there through wind, sleet and rain and didn’t go away until my treatment was complete. I was so shocked how long it stayed. I believe in angels and the power of prayer.”

Mary’s faith is strong and so is her support system, which she’s relied heavily on for the past year. Her three daughters, C.J., Becky and Valerie, “have been my rock. They’ve done everything for me,” she says. “I’m the matriarch. I’m the one who makes sure everything is in place, but after I began my second round of treatment, I needed them badly.”

Facing her Fears

Mary first began to suspect something was wrong in March 2014. After a call to her primary physician, Zulfiqar Rizvi, M.D., Mary was referred to Palos Community Hospital’s Women’s Center in Tinley Park for further imaging.

The breast health experts at Palos provide an integrated and comprehensive approach – from diagnosis to treatment and recovery. Mary’s mammogram was performed using breast tomosynthesis, commonly referred to as 3D™ breast imaging, a revolutionary new breast screening and diagnostic tool designed for early breast cancer detection.

“With tomosynthesis, we can detect smaller and more subtle cancers that we may not normally be able to see with traditional mammography,” explains Gregory Ostrowski, D.O., a radiologist at Palos Community Hospital. “Using a 3D™ approach also decreases additional unnecessary callbacks, imaging and radiation exposure.”

The Centers at Palos Community Hospital and the Palos Women’s Center in Tinley Park offer 3D™ tomosynthesis technology. This technology captures breast images in one millimeter slices allowing the radiologist to see breast tissue detail in a way never before possible. Tomosynthesis reduces the chance of being called back for additional images by 40 percent because this technology reduces the confusion of overlapping tissue and other issues that can interfere in interpretation with 2D technology. 3D™ assists the radiologist with finding abnormalities in dense breast tissue and also detects 41 percent more invasive cancers with a better chance of finding these cancer earlier

A mass was revealed on Mary’s right breast and biopsied. “I am so glad I had 3D™ tomosynthesis breast imaging,” she says. “If doctors can find more and see more with it, then why not, especially given my history?”

Mary says the first person she saw after having the biopsy was a nurse navigator. “I remember sitting in the room shaking, and she wrapped me in a warm blanket and I told her my fears,” Mary says. “I can’t imagine having to go through this by myself. That’s why a navigator is such a great person to have by your side.”

Palos offers the assistance of nurse navigators to all patients who require breast procedures. These specially trained breast health professionals help educate and advocate for patients and their family during evaluation, treatment and recovery. Patients who have the support of a breast health patient navigator are better able to focus on healing because they’re not left wondering about the next steps.

Mary’s fears were soon confirmed; it was Stage II cancer. “When you are first diagnosed, you prepare your mind for the worst. I was expecting the doctor to tell me I had three months to live, and I was going to make the most of it,” she says. “I was ready to do what I had to do to get better.”

Thorough Care

Mary soon met with Jennifer Gambla, M.D., a board-certified, dedicated breast surgeon with Palos Medical Group. They talked about her prognosis and what she could expect going forward.

With Mary’s type of cancer, she was a candidate for either breast conservation or mastectomy. Extensive discussion was held with Mary and her family regarding the risks and benefits of all of her treatment options.

“I believe it is very important to spend time with the patient and the family members education them about the various options they have for treatment,” Dr. Gambla says. “Arming them with information is the key to allowing them to be an instrumental part of the decision-making process.”

Given her family history and the fact that she has three daughters, Mary took a breast cancer gene test (BRCA) to check for mutations in genes that can increase a person’s risk for developing breast or other cancers. According to the American Cancer Society, the most common cause of hereditary breast cancer is an inherited mutation in the BRCA 1 and BRCA2 genes.

“Although only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are a result of a genetic mutation, it is important to know that information prior to making a definitive decision on treatment,” explains Dr. Gambla. “With a lifetime risk of a contralateral breast cancer being 40 to 65 percent with a BRCA1 or 2 mutation, that plays a huge part in deciding how to proceed with surgery.”

Testing positive for a BRCA2 mutation, Mary opted to have both breasts removed.

Following surgery Mary met her oncology team on staff at Palos Community Hospital to discuss her chemotherapy and radiation treatment plan, which she recently completed.

She’s scheduled to have her port removed this fall, another step in putting cancer behind her and moving on with her new life as a survivor. “I feel relieved. I’m on my way to healing now.”

This summer, Mary had a Celebration of Life party at her Homer Glen home as a way to thank her family and friends for their support and words of encouragement throughout her illness. She says she doesn’t take any day for granted. “I never waste an opportunity to say ‘I Love You’ to those who mean so much to me.”

Feelings of Gratitude

Mary also says she doesn’t know what she would have done without the Cancer Rehabilitation program at Palos. “My therapist helped me get over my fears and I needed that.”

Helping patients get back to the life they love is the goal of our comprehensive program. Staffed by certified lymphedema and certified oncology rehabilitation physical therapists, the program offers personalized treatment options to help patients improve their quality of life by addressing the side effects of cancer treatments.”

“I’ve had an amazing experience with Palos Community Hospital and the cancer team,” Mary says. “I had the best care and the best doctors. Whatever questions I needed answered, they answered. Everyone was so compassionate and caring and had smiles on their faces. I would refer anyone to them without any reservation.”