By Jennifer Churchill, Carson City Hospital Public Relations & Marketing Manager
You’ve heard it a million times: mammograms save lives. Linda Ferris of Muir hasn’t just heard this advice, she’s lived it.
“My breast cancer was caught early because I had a mammogram,” said the 59-year-old mother of three, her blue eyes twinkling despite the fact that she had just spent the morning at Sparrow Regional Cancer Center in Lansing for her first Targeted Radiation Therapy (TRT) treatment. “It wouldn’t have been a happy ending for me without that mammogram ... at least not for a long time.”
Linda experienced two “firsts” at Carson City Hospital. She was the hospital’s first MammoSite 5-Day Targeted Radiation Therapy patient, and she was also the first patient to be guided through her breast cancer experience by the hospital’s new Breast Health Navigator, Registered Nurse Andrea Russell.
TRT is unique because it limits radiation treatment to a small area and decreases the damage to healthy cells surrounding the cancer. This targeted therapy uses a high dose of radiation directed right at the area surrounding the lumpectomy cavity to destroy any cancer cells that may remain after surgery.
MammoSite 5-Day TRT uses a small, soft balloon attached to a thin catheter. The balloon is placed inside the lumpectomy cavity. To deliver the required therapy, a tiny source of radiation called a “seed” is placed within the MammoSite balloon by a computer-controlled machine. During 10 treatments over five days, this “seed” is placed in the balloon and therapeutic radiation is delivered to the area surrounding the cavity. After the treatment, the balloon catheter is removed and the area is closed with a small bandage.
“While conventional external-beam radiation therapy takes six to seven weeks to complete, this targeted therapy can be completed in just five days,” said Andrea. “That means less fatigue, less stress, and less side effects for patients.”
So, what is a Breast Health Navigator? In simple terms, they’re certified breast health educators and case managers who coordinate the clinical, educational and support needs of breast cancer patients and their families, a distinct need for the staggering 7,000 Michigan women who were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. Figuratively and literally, they hold the hands of patients trying to navigate their way through the confusing maze of mammograms, Ultrasounds, sentinel-node biopsies, and radiation therapies.
A cancer survivor herself, Andrea had just completed the national certification training program as a Breast Health Navigator when Linda became a candidate for the MammoSite surgery in late 2008.
“So this was a bit new to Andrea, too,” said Linda, with obvious affection for the nurse that spent many hours at her side. “She’s a sweetheart, and has become one of my best friends through all of this. We both talk non-stop for one thing!”
Linda’s journey started almost a year ago, when she had a routine physical with Dr. Doug Poff and was scheduled for a mammogram at Carson City Hospital. Starting a complicated process that offers a perfect example of why a Breast Health Navigator can help lesson the confusion for a patient, Linda was told a shadow was spotted in her left breast, and she was scheduled for another mammogram. The shadowed area was spotted again, and an Ultrasound confirmed that “something was there.” After a needle biopsy performed by Dr. Thomas Morgan confirmed the presence of cancer, Linda was rushed to the O.R., where Dr. Morgan performed a lumpectomy to remove the cancerous tissue. Later, Dr. Morgan and Dr. Kevin O’Connor performed a sentinel-lymph-node biopsy and inserted the MammoSite balloon needed for the targeted radiation therapy.
“They took out nine lymph nodes and they were all negative,” said Linda, who was laid off from work at the time of her surgery and whose supportive husband, Steve, works at Meridian in Ionia. “Dr. O’Connor told me about the MammoSite option for radiation therapy to make sure the cancer wouldn’t come back, and I liked that it would take only two treatments a day for five days in a row to complete and let me get back to my normal life with my family and friends.”
Linda saw the radiation oncologist, Dr. James Herman, the very next day. She didn’t look forward to the radiation treatments, but her upbeat personality and “Fight Like A Girl” attitude impressed the hospital staff throughout the entire process.
“Truly, imagine how lucky I am to only have to experience this for five days instead of five weeks,” she said.
did you know?
Breast Health Navigators:
Carson City Hospital’s Breast Health Navigator Andrea Russell, R.N., recommends the following: