Recent breast cancer diagnosis? Advice from breast cancer survivors

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Now what? Once you move beyond your initial reaction to a breast cancer diagnosis, whether it is disbelief, fear, anger or uncertainty, what should you do? We asked three breast cancer survivors for words of wisdom to the recently diagnosed.

1. Bring a trusted friend or family member as an advocate to your doctor’s appointments

When faced with a cancer diagnosis the options can seem daunting and the information overwhelming. It can be invaluable to have an advocate in the room to be a second set of ears. A person who is confident enough to ask questions, able to take notes and willing to process the information afterward with you. Advocates should understand their role prior to going to your appointment so they can be prepared.

2. Write down your questions

Create a written list of specific questions prior to your appointments to discuss with your doctor. Let your doctor know that you have questions at the beginning of your appointment.

3. Beware of Dr. Google

Dr. Michelle Boyce Ley, board-certified breast oncology surgeon, medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program and a breast cancer survivor herself said, “Don’t google outcomes. I’ve seen what’s out there and they don’t look like my own patients.” Tess X, a patient of Dr. Boyce Ley’s, said “I didn’t do much reading outside the basics because you can really get into the weeds and pseudo-science. I looked up my particular variant of BRCA2 and did some calculations on risk over 10 years and lifetime, but I have a biology background. Then I talked with Dr. Boyce Ley to discuss my risks and treatment options.”

4. Talk to your doctor about risk and benefits

“Don’t assume the risks and benefits are the same as a friend’s with the same form of cancer,” Tess X said. Two people can have the same form of cancer, but the treatment plan might be quite different dependent on stage, location and the individual’s aversion to risk.

5. Ask about all the options including if there are options in treatment that they don’t offer.

“It makes me so sad when I give a talk and someone comes up afterward and says, ‘Why didn’t they offer me that?’” said Dr. Michelle Boyce Ley, . It’s important that your physician be willing to discuss all options with you, so you can participate in shared decision-making. “You can’t make a good decision unless you have the information.”

6. Don’t be afraid to share your diagnosis with others

“I met many survivors that way,” said Vanessa Hough Buck. “They have been an encouragement to me. Find a support group of survivors.”

7. Don’t avoid being in photographs while you’re going through treatment

“Even when you don’t feel your best, be in the picture. When I look back now, those are my favorite photos,” Buck said.

8. Let people know what you need from them

“Your friends and family have good intentions but don’t always know what to do. It’s alright to ask for specific help. And it’s OK to say ‘no’ to visitors,” Buck said.

 

Are you a breast cancer survivor? What advice would you give to the recently diagnosed?

TMC for Women has a high risk breast clinic that provides education, treatment options, and coordination to best help high risk patients choose their next steps.

 

 

TMC High Risk Breast Clinic – Personalized care, options and support

Are you at an increased risk for breast cancer? One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. How do you know if you are high risk? If you are at high risk – what’s next?

Tucson Medical Center has designed a clinic just for women who have these questions about developing breast cancer. The TMC High Risk Breast Clinic is focused on providing in-depth education, advanced diagnostics and compassionate support to best help high risk patients choose their next steps. TMC’s experienced high-risk team recognizes that every woman’s risk factors are different and will assess risk, and then tailor a personalized care plan based on each patient’s individual needs.

A team approach

michele boyce ley md breast cancer surgeonPatients will work with a team of breast-health professionals –who have decades of diagnostic and treatment experience. The team includes a women’s health nurse practitioner, a certified nurse navigator, and a breast surgical oncologist. In addition, patients have access to imaging specialists and genetic counseling.

“The multidisciplinary approach is central to an effective high risk program,” said Medical Director Dr. Michele Boyce Ley, a board-certified, fellowship-trained breast surgical oncologist and a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.

As a breast cancer survivor, Dr. Boyce Ley brings a unique perspective to the clinic, empathizing with patients on their journey.

“Our team meets weekly to discuss the unique aspects of each patient’s care and challenges,” Boyce Ley explained. “We leave no stone unturned, and focus on making the best care recommendations to the most important member of the care team – the patient.”

Specialized services

The TMC High Risk Breast Clinic features state-of-the-art imaging diagnostics to facilitate early and accurate detection. The dedicated breast imaging center houses the latest equipment to provide the care team with clearer images, even for patients with dense breast tissue. On-site breast biopsies by experienced physicians offers convenience and timely results.

“Our next-level diagnostics provides clearer, overall images that help identify abnormalities earlier,” said Karen Narum, WHNP-BC, the board certified, women’s health nurse practitioner at the TMC High Risk Breast Clinic. “We use an advanced breast tomosynthesis, which combines enhanced mammography with modern computer software to create three-dimensional images of the breasts.”

A genetic-testing panel can be performed to further identify risk factors and provide additional information to help guide patients through the decisions and options that are available. If surgery is determined to be the best option, patients can rely on advanced surgical techniques, including nipple sparing mastectomy and Hidden Scar techniques, which are both effective and respectful of appearance.

Meaningful support and resources

The TMC breast-health nurse navigator will be by the patient’s side every step of the way, functioning as a personal advocate, answering questions, arranging visits with specialists, lining up tests and coordinating care.

“A high-risk diagnosis can be overwhelming,” says Mary Verplank, BSN, RN, breast-health nurse navigator. “We’re here to help with anything and everything – from scheduling appointments to connecting patients with community resources.”

The nurse navigators work one-on-one with patients and family members to:

• familiarize them with all aspects of the treatment plan.

• share hospital and community resources.

• coordinate support services that may address specific needs during treatment.

• help resolve any issues that may arise, from financial questions to transportation.

For further information or to schedule an appointment call the TMC breast health nurse navigator at (520) 324-4848 or Breast.Navigator@tmcaz.com.

Are you at high risk for breast cancer? Not sure? Take our Breast Cancer Health Risk Assessment. Following completion we send the report to your email address so that you may take it to your primary care provider. Have questions? Our certified nurse navigator will reach out to those at high risk.

breast cancer risk assessment


Tucson Medical Center | 5301 E. Grant Road | Tucson, Arizona 85712 | (520) 327-5461