Breast Cancer Patient Story: Ann Marie Yorgensen
When Ann Marie Yorgensen was diagnosed with breast cancer, she felt completely overwhelmed: “I felt like I was caught up in a bad dream. It was hard to concentrate on my everyday responsibilities and activities with the news of this diagnosis.”
Ann Marie, who describes herself as “one of those people who has to obtain all the facts, rather than proceed with partial information,” reached out to Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. A friend who had a breast cancer scare recommended Froedtert & the Medical College, so Ann Marie called the Breast Cancer Program, where she found expertise, individualized support and a mentor who has become one of her best friends.
Clinical Nurse Specialist Julie Griffie, RN, MSN, ACNS-BC was one of Ann Marie’s first contacts. As a nurse coordinator for the Breast Cancer Program, Griffie is available to answer questions and act as a resource throughout treatment. The program also offers a new patient coordinator — Martha Agler. When patients first contact the Breast Cancer Program, Agler gathers appropriate medical records and coordinates appointments, tests, treatments and other services. Griffie, along with the nursing staff, takes it from there.
“Julie was phenomenal,” Ann Marie said. “She listened to my story and helped connect me with a surgeon she thought would be a good fit for me.”
Griffie suggested Tina Yen, MD, MS, a Medical College of Wisconsin surgical oncologist who specializes in breast cancer. Based on the individual aspects of Ann Marie’s cancer, Dr. Yen recommended a mastectomy. Dr. Yen is one member of a team that includes breast cancer specialists in radiation oncology, medical oncology, breast surgery and plastic surgery, radiology, pathology, psychology and oncology nursing.
“In general, women who undergo lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy have the same outcomes as women who undergo mastectomy,” Dr. Yen said. “However, since Ann Marie had more than one tumor in her breast and her tumor size to breast size ratio was relatively large, I did not recommend breast-conserving surgery for her. I thought her best cosmetic result would be achieved with mastectomy and immediate reconstruction.”
While Ann Marie trusted Dr. Yen’s judgment, she was nervous. Ann Marie told Griffie she wanted to talk to someone who had experienced a mastectomy and could tell her what to expect. Griffie called Mary Jo Cyr, a Sheboygan resident whose double mastectomy was performed by Dr. Yen three years ago. Mary Jo has helped many other women deal with a breast cancer diagnosis and as a survivor, she understands their fears and concerns.
The two women quickly connected. “Mary Jo told me, ‘I have nothing but good things to say about what you’ll experience at Froedtert,’” Ann Marie said.
“Ann Marie is very much like me,” Mary Jo said. “She’s a person who has to know everything. And we’re both happy, positive people with supportive families and a strong faith.”
Soon the two women were talking daily. “I felt like I had somebody to hold my hand through this whole thing,” Ann Marie said. “Mary Jo had actually experienced it all and knew what I needed. She sent me beautiful books to read and made sure I was alright every day.”
Mary Jo Cyr, a breast cancer survivor herself, supported and mentored Ann Marie through her breast cancer treatment. The two remain fast friends today.
I also received unbelievable support from my husband, Kenny, who willingly and lovingly attended every one of my appointments,” Ann Marie said. “I know so many women who lack this critical support, which makes their cancer journey a lonely one. I never felt alone, thanks to the unfailing support and love of Kenny, my children, Lauren and Jason, and other family members, along with my church community and, of course, Mary Jo.”
In February 2008, Dr. Yen performed Ann Marie’s mastectomy. John LoGiudice, MD, a Medical College of Wisconsin plastic surgeon, began the reconstruction process at the same time. Ann Marie’s reconstruction was done using a silicone implant.
Along with surgery and radiation therapy, a vital treatment consideration for women who have breast cancer is whether or not chemotherapy or hormone therapy will be of value in eliminating cancer or preventing recurrence.
“When a woman is treated for breast cancer, it’s important to look at all angles to make sure the treatment plan is effective,” said Christopher Chitambar, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin medical oncologist. Dr. Chitambar was part of the team providing input into Ann Marie’s ongoing treatment plan and follow-up care.
“After surgery, we look at the individual characteristics of a patient’s breast cancer cells to determine her chance of recurrence and to address whether chemotherapy, anti-hormonal therapy or both will be of significant benefit in reducing her risk of recurrence. In women whose tumors have estrogen receptors, we use OncotypeDx testing to obtain a gene profile of the breast cancer. This enables us to determine whether anti-hormonal therapy alone is sufficient or whether it should be combined with chemotherapy,” Dr. Chitambar said. “We discuss the value of chemotherapy versus hormone-blocking agents and weigh advantages against potential side effects. We also take into account the implications of changing the hormone-blocking agent after several years, depending on a woman’s menopausal status. In addition, we monitor the development of osteoporosis and make decisions about appropriate follow up.
“In fact, for Ann Marie and others like her, treatment with a hormone-blocking agent such as Tamoxifen for the first five years after diagnosis is a critical part of treatment, as it diminishes chances of recurrence by 35 percent or more,” Dr. Chitambar said.
“Cancer is a very complex disease and careful consideration of all types of treatment — medical oncology, radiation oncology and surgery — is critical for each woman’s optimal outcome.”
Just days after her mastectomy, Ann Marie was back in church doing what she really enjoys — playing piano and singing from the altar. Not long after, Mary Jo and her husband traveled from Sheboygan to meet Ann Marie.
More cards, phone calls and visits followed. The friendship that started as a one-way street blossomed into a true support system. “Ann Marie has encouraged me countless times,” Mary Jo said. “Being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment is the easy part. It’s when it’s all over you look around and think, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ There have been many days where I’ve wondered how I’d make it through without Ann Marie’s friendship and prayers.”
Although their surgeries were years apart, both women went through reconstruction at Froedtert & the Medical College at approximately the same time. John Hijjawi, MD, a Medical College of Wisconsin plastic surgeon, performed Mary Jo’s DIEP flap procedure, which uses abdominal tissue to rebuild the breasts. “Next to my husband, Ann Marie was my biggest supporter during this time,” Mary Jo said.
Today, both women are cancer-free and close friends. Both reach out to other women with breast cancer and continue to recommend the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Breast Cancer Program. “I’ve sent a number of ladies there,” Ann Marie said. “From Julie Griffie, who helped me make such important connections, to my doctors — every single person I met at Froedtert was very positive and caring — just like Mary Jo.”
Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center
The Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center offers comprehensive care in one location. Each specialized cancer program includes a complete team of physician experts who focus on a particular form of cancer or group of related cancers. For patients, the benefits are completely coordinated treatment and the most advanced care available. Learn more about our disease-specific cancer programs or to make an appointment, call 866-680-0505.