Susana, now 74, has gotten her annual breast screenings at El Camino Health since she was 40. In 2016, her mammogram revealed abnormal tissue that required a biopsy.
"I have dense breasts," says Susana, referring to the dense tissue that can make it harder to find cancer in a mammogram. "There have been a few times over the years when I've been asked to return for a second screening to make sure nothing had been missed. But this time felt different, and I was a little worried."
Talks with Her Care Team Eased Her Fears
Susana's radiologist performed an ultrasound-guided biopsy that confirmed breast cancer. Although she was naturally upset by the news, Susana recalls that the technologists and doctors helped reduce her anxiety by addressing her fears. "It was really wonderful how they took the time to explain everything," says Susana.
Once it was clear Susana needed surgery for a small tumor, the staff at the Women's Imaging Center at Mountain View Hospital immediately made an appointment with Dr. Shyamali Singhal, a surgeon who specializes in cancer surgeries. "Dr. Singhal was cheerful and encouraging." Susana also met the rest of her team, a breast reconstruction surgeon, her radiation oncologist Dr. Robert Sinha, and her oncologist Dr. Shane Dormady.
Dr. Singhal performed a lumpectomy. Tumor analysis identified the cancer as HER2 positive, the type of breast cancer that uses the hormone estrogen to grow. Susana underwent a second surgery to remove additional tissue for safe margins around the tumor. Reconstructive surgery was not needed.
"When Dr. Dormady performed a genetic analysis of my tumor cells," says Susana. "It indicated I did not need chemotherapy." He prescribed radiation-only treatment to be followed by a daily anti-estrogen pill that Susana would take for the next five years. She would also have follow-up appointments with Dr. Singhal twice a year.
As Health Returned Her Attitude Changed
"I took off work for three and a half months," shares Susana, who fills two roles at a nonprofit grief support agency. As a staff member she provides administrative assistance and as a volunteer she provides peer counseling for clients. But it was time for her to focus on herself. "My cancer diagnosis taught me the importance of being an advocate for oneself."
"I also think the experience has altered my attitude about life," reflects Susana. "I'm more conscious of where I put my energy, how I spend my day." When she's not working, Susana enjoys reading, daily walks, visits with her grandchildren and yoga classes, something she's been engaged in for 20 years.
Susana also finds she is more appreciative of the kindness of people like technologists, schedulers and receptionists. "And of all the people I met along the way, one nurse at the radiation center stands out. Something about her rapport, attitude and humor. I even told her she was perfect for the job. But everyone at the Cancer Center goes out of their way to handle your details, so you don’t have to worry. They do things thoughtfully and well. I had confidence in them."
While Susana gives high praise to El Camino Health, perhaps the greatest takeaway from her story is the importance of annual screenings. "I had no symptoms," Susana reminds us. But she never missed her annual mammogram, which led to early detection and a return to good health.