Cancer Center Special Report
Not Just a NumberWhen a routine mammogram revealed a suspicious area on one breast in August 2004, Marie Garvens, 49, took the first steps of an unexpected journey. A fit, active woman with no family history of breast cancer, Marie was sure the suspicious area was just an anomaly. So learning she had stage 3 breast cancer “was a complete shock,” Marie says.
But while Marie was shocked, she was never alone. Alonzo Walker, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin surgical oncologist and director of the Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin Breast Cancer Program, and Julie Griffie, APRN-BC, CS, AOCN, breast cancer nurse navigator and clinical nurse specialist, became Marie’s partners on her journey through cancer.
Marie first met Griffie and Dr. Walker after Marie’s brother, a radiologist in South Carolina, recommended she seek a second opinion at an academic medical center. “A couple of years before, I’d had surgery done on my hand at Froedtert and had been very pleased with how I’d been treated there and with the outcome,” Marie recalls. “So I contacted Froedtert and set up an appointment. It was very easy — no run around at all.”
At her first appointment, Dr. Walker reviewed Marie’s mammogram and recommended additional tests. Unfortunately, those tests confirmed her cancer.
Dr. Walker’s next step was to discuss Marie’s case with his colleagues on the Breast Cancer team. This team routinely meets as a "tumor board" to get input from a host of experts in breast disease, including Surgical Oncologists Tina Yen, MD, and Sonia Sugg, MD; Radiation Oncologists Julia White, MD, and J. Frank Wilson, MD; and Medical Oncologist Janet Hosenpud, MD. The team also includes a dedicated breast pathologist, breast radiologists, a breast MRI specialist and many others. And for women who desire breast reconstruction after surgery, an experienced plastic and reconstructive surgery team provides state-of-the-art options.
After an exhaustive review, Dr. Walker met with Marie and her husband to discuss her best treatment options.
“It was a lot to absorb, but Julie gave me information about what to expect and questions to ask. You know, what's going to happen with chemotherapy, what to ask the surgeon and radiation oncologist — that type of thing,” says Marie. “The information was very helpful. Julie even called me after our first meeting to see how I was doing. She offered to connect me with somebody who had gone through this.”
While Marie declined the offer, she was grateful for the support. She was also grateful to be considered an essential part of the team. Together, Marie, her physicians and navigator selected a treatment plan: chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, followed by a lumpectomy and radiation to prevent recurrence. (Combined treatments, such as the plan Marie and her team chose, have proven as effective as mastectomy.)
But Marie had something to do first. “Before starting chemo, we decided to go on vacation,” says Marie. “It delayed treatment a week, but emotionally, I needed the time.” Her medical team, she says, was very supportive of her decision.
“Everyone has important things they need to accomplish. We try to find out what those are and build our plan of care around them,” Griffie explains. “My job is to understand people’s needs, to help them understand their plan of care and help coordinate with physicians and support team members to make sure everything happens smoothly.”
When Marie returned from vacation, she started chemotherapy; Griffie and Dr. Walker continued to check in with her frequently. By the timeMarie had surgery in March 2005, her tumor had shrunk more than 50 percent. “Because the tumor shrank so much, the surgery was less invasive than originally planned,” Marie says. Marie has completed radiation therapy and now returns to the Cancer Center weekly to receive preventive medication.
She’s thrilled with the care she received at Froedtert & Medical College of Wisconsin. “I never felt I was a number,” she says. “There was genuine concern. I am so thankful I went to Froedtert and had this outcome. It could have turned out much differently.”
Source: Cancer Center Special Report 2005/06
Last Review Date: February 22, 2006
Online Editor(s): Tamara Kroll