When Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Drexel Town Square Health Center opened in Oak Creek in January 2018, Anna Pecor attended the open house with her partner, Kathy. Impressed by the spacious new facility, they appreciated that academic medicine was available just 10 minutes from their Franklin home. Little did they know that roughly two months later, Anna, 53, would be sitting in the infusion room there, undergoing cancer treatment.
After discovering a lump in her right breast in early February, Anna immediately called to reschedule the mammogram she had postponed a few months earlier. During the mammogram, a radiologist spotted three possible tumors. Aparna Shah, MD, family medicine specialist at Froedtert & MCW Greenfield Highlands Health Center, ordered an ultrasound to get additional images, which indicated a biopsy was needed. Within days, the pathology results confirmed she had cancer. With characteristic humor, Anna responded to the news by saying she would still have a blast at the rock concert she was attending that weekend.
Making a Plan
Anna’s next steps included choosing a surgical oncologist. She chose Caitlin Patten, MD, breast surgical oncologist and MCW faculty member.
Dr. Patten spent an hour with Anna and Kathy, explaining the cancer, outlining Anna’s treatment and answering their questions.
“I felt confident immediately,” Anna said. “I knew I picked a great doctor for me.”
Diagnostic tests of Anna’s breast tissue revealed she had an early-stage invasive ductal carcinoma that was HER2-positive, which indicates the presence of a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. HER2 promotes the growth of cancer cells. Given this cancer type, the most effective treatment would involve chemotherapy first to shrink the tumors, followed by surgery and radiation therapy.
Anna’s treatment plan was created during a collaborative breast cancer conference, a multidisciplinary group of breast cancer specialists who meet weekly at Froedtert & MCW Froedtert Hospital to consider all new breast cancer patients and develop personalized, evidence-based treatment plans.
Thomas Giever, DO, hematologist/oncologist and MCW faculty member, oversaw Anna’s chemotherapy, choosing a combination of drugs that would target her particular cancer.
In March, Dr. Patten performed a brief surgical procedure to place a port in Anna’s body for the chemotherapy. “I prefer to place the port in my patients to build trust early in the relationship and provide continuity of care,” Dr. Patten said.
In April, Anna began six months of chemotherapy, which was followed by HER2-targeted therapy. Anna worked with Dr. Giever and his team to manage the common side effects of chemotherapy. She and Kathy made an effort to be upbeat, arriving for her infusions wearing funny T-shirts and joking with the medical team.
“We knew we had a big struggle in front of us, but we let our sense of humor show,” Anna said. “I wanted to set a positive example for my young niece and nephews, showing them how to deal with adversity and the importance of continuing to be yourself.”
Good News, Next Steps
After Anna’s last chemotherapy treatment, her tumors were largely gone, meaning she could have a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy.
“When the patient has an excellent response to chemotherapy, it shrinks the tumor so less tissue needs to be removed, and we expect a better cosmetic outcome,” Dr. Patten said. During Anna’s lumpectomy at Froedtert Hospital in August, Dr. Patten biopsied nearby lymph nodes, which were clear of cancer cells. Because Anna had a lumpectomy, she did not require reconstructive surgery.
Anna began radiation therapy at Drexel Town Square Health Center with radiation oncologist and MCW faculty member Michael Straza, MD, PhD, in September. Given the success of her chemotherapy and surgery, she wondered if radiation therapy was necessary.
“I explained to Anna that radiation therapy is an important step after lumpectomy to eradicate any microscopic cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence,” Dr. Straza said.
Now, Anna takes an oral medication known as an aromatase inhibitor to target the HER2 factor, which she will continue for up to 10 years to reduce her risk of cancer returning. She also continues to meet regularly with her medical team. Drs. Patten, Giever and Straza see patients at both Drexel Town Square Health Center and Froedtert Hospital.
As she recovers, Anna feels fortunate. “I’m grateful every day for the doctors who were placed in front of me and the opportunity to have academic medicine right in my own backyard,” she said.
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My sister has been battling breast cancer with some complications along the way. She starts her radiation treatments this week. You are all Braver then you realize taking on this new normal in this journey of life. You are all remarkable!!! My prayers for you as well....this prayer list continues to grow, but I know the Lord hears our prayers, and thoughts.
Anna is a coworker odd mine and as well Kathy who is both a coworker and friend of mine. She hired me at my job!
I was shocked to see this story about Anna. I pray for Kathy and for Anna with her continued healing from this ugly disease! I wish that cancer would catch cancer and disappear forever!
I pray for God to continue to give these doctors with the knowledge that it takes to continue to help these cancer patients! 🙏🏽❤🙏🏽