Breast Cancer - My Journey
Lisa had the care and support she needed as
she worked through her breast cancer.
Lisa said, "You can just tell people at the
St. Luke's Cancer Center are special. I felt
very cared for."
Lisa Hill of Quakertown had just been on a summer camping trip in 2008 with her husband and three children. She came home with the mosquito bites to show for it, including one she found on the top of her left breast. “I was covered with mosquito bites,” she says, “but this one seemed deeper than a regular bite and, a month later, it was still there.”
Her gynecologist sent her for a mammogram and she was told she had a benign cyst. “I was asked to make an appointment again in six months, but I couldn't put it out of my mind,” says Lisa.
In February 2009, Lisa went to St. Luke's Regional Breast Center. “By that visit the growth had enlarged and I had become even more concerned,” says Lisa. “I had an ultrasound and they did a biopsy right away. I learned it was breast cancer; I was only 38. That diagnosis threw my whole world upside down. I was worried and also felt overwhelmed. Through it all, Dr. [Joseph] Russo and the Center's staff were so kind, professional and discreet.”
A Cancer Diagnosis...and a Decision to be Made
Lisa learned her cancer was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, and she had a decision to make about her care.
“Of course, I wanted to make the best decision, so I talked to a lot of people,” says Lisa. “One of my co-workers recommended surgical oncologist Dr. Lee Riley. I had heard so many good things; I made an appointment to see him. Dr. Riley and his nurse Carol [Kachmarsky] were wonderful. Dr. Riley took the time to thoroughly explain my type of breast cancer, showing me pictures and discussing my surgical options and follow-up treatment,” says Lisa. “They made me comfortable and gave me choices.”
Dr. Riley told Lisa she could choose to have breast-conserving surgery, which involves a lumpectomy to remove the tumor and a margin of normal tissue, followed by radiation therapy to the remaining breast tissue. She could also choose mastectomy to remove the breast. Lisa chose the lumpectomy.
After the surgery, Dr. Riley also performed a sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) procedure to see if there was any evidence of cancer in the sentinel lymph node. A negative biopsy result would suggest cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes.
Lisa was anxious about the results. Dr. Riley was there when Lisa woke up. “He came with a bunch of daffodils for me and the news that there was no further evidence of cancer,” says Lisa. Additional pathology testing was done to confirm that result.
Lisa also had gene expression profile testing to evaluate her individual breast tumor. St. Luke's uses MammaPrint®, an FDA-cleared gene-expression profile test that provides information based on 70 genes about tumor biology and actively identifies a woman's risk for recurrence. “This test helps us determine if chemotherapy is necessary and would be beneficial as an adjuvant therapy,” says Dr. Riley. “This test showed that Lisa would not benefit from chemotherapy. It was one less treatment she had to have.”
“Learning that I did not need chemotherapy was huge,” says Lisa. “This meant I would not experience the fatigue or any of the side effects associated with that treatment and I would be able to resume a more normal life.”
Lisa underwent radiation therapy treatments with radiation oncologist Dr. Nimisha Deb. “Dr. Deb is so nice and kind; she explained everything to me,” says Lisa.
Lisa had external beam radiation therapy (ERBT), also known as whole breast irradiation. “EBRT is considered the gold standard for patients with breast cancer,” says Dr. Deb. “It delivers a high-energy X-ray beam to the tumor site to destroy cancer cells while sparing surrounding normal tissues. EBRT is administered daily, usually over five to seven weeks.”
Having two sons and a daughter, Lisa also chose to undergo genetic testing to see if she carried the breast cancer gene. “Even though breast cancer doesn't run in my family, I wanted to know my risk,” says Lisa. “I was tested for both BRCA1 and BRCA2. The results showed I did not carry BRCA1, but the BRCA2 results came back inconclusive.”
Lisa did learn she is 100 percent sensitive to estrogen, which can promote the growth of breast cancer cells. Under the care of medical oncologist Dr. Hikaru Nakajima, she has been receiving the drug Tamoxifen to lower her risk of cancer recurrence. “Tamoxifen has been proven to reduce the risk of breast cancer by interfering with the activity of the female hormone estrogen,” says Dr. Nakajima. “Lisa will need to take this for five years.”
"My Cancer Team"
Lisa continues to see her breast cancer team. “What I love so much about them is that they celebrate every little ending to a treatment,” she says. “They are positive people and they make you feel special.”
Lisa also goes back to St. Luke's Regional Breast Center to be checked. “I love them; they are the nicest people, so well-trained, sweet and professional,” she says.
Lisa is an advocate of early detection and screenings. “Many women are afraid or in denial about breast cancer,” she says. “I tell my friends, and anyone who asks, if you have any concerns, anything at all, just get it checked. You'll be glad you did.”