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In the fall of 2006, Carol Hess was performing her monthly breast self-exam when she discovered a suspicious mass in her left breast. "I called my doctor and scheduled a mammogram," Carol recalled. "A few days later, with my husband by my side, I received the news that I had stage II invasive ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ. I took the news in stride and remained positive."
"I chose Fox Chase because they 'deal with cancer all day everyday,' however, the emotional support that accompanied the advanced treatments was more than I expected."
Carol looked on the Internet to research the hospitals for breast cancer treatment. She explained, "With a 1 and 3 year old, I knew there was no time to delay. After completing my research, I landed at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. I found comfort knowing that their sole focus is cancer. Initially, I chose Fox Chase because they 'deal with cancer all day everyday,' however, the emotional support that accompanied the advanced treatments was more than I expected."
She immediately took action, made a plan, and set up a support team. "I knew this was going to slow me down but I always remained positive," shared Carol. "I knew with the advanced care from Fox Chase, my family and my friends, I wasn't going to let this adversely affect my children."
Carol's first step was to undergo a radical mastectomy, performed by Elin Sigurdson, MD, an oncologic surgeon at Fox Chase. Once she recovered from surgery, Carol met with Neal Topham, MD, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Fox Chase. Dr. Topham performed Carol's breast reconstruction surgery. Dr. Topham's technique included a free TRAM flap using Carol's abdominal tissue to reconstruct the breast.
"After my initial meeting with Dr. Topham, I knew I would be okay."
"After my initial meeting with Dr. Topham, I knew I would be okay," said Carol. "I realized how blessed I was to be in the care of the nation's top doctors. Also, the emotional support that continues to this day that Dr. Topham and the staff at Fox Chase provides is astonishing."
"The nurses at Fox Chase were superb during my hospital stay following surgery," Carol explained. "They were attentive and paid close attention to details, which you appreciate as a patient."
"Dr. Ramona Swaby, my medical oncologist, was supportive and optimistic. I sensed she sincerely cares about her patients."
Following surgery, Carol's next step was chemotherapy to prevent the cancer from recurring. "Dr. Ramona Swaby, my medical oncologist, was supportive and optimistic. I sensed she sincerely cares about her patients. Dr. Swaby specializes in breast cancer treatment with a focus on research. She is driven, for the success of all of her patients," explained Carol.
Carol is driven too. The mother of 2 young children, she works for the Navy in the field of Civil Engineering Technology. "Our department is responsible for support of the launch and recovery systems for aircraft used on aircraft carriers," she explained. Carol enjoys a wide range of activities including running, yoga, mountain biking, boating and gardening.
"It wasn't always easy, but during this time I still took care of my two young children and continued to work," recalled Carol. "I live in New Jersey and travel 1-1/2 hours each way to get to Fox Chase for treatment. Fox Chase provided hope, and my overall good nature never faltered."
Within Carol's first year of treatment, she participated and completed a half marathon (13.1 miles) and took second place in a 5K running race. Carol explained, "Whatever the challenges were, whether it was the side effects from chemotherapy or an upcoming medical exam, I faced them with courage."
"With the support and encouragement I received from the doctors, nurses, staff, family, friends, and fellow patients, I remain positive and energetic," added Carol. "I never let negative feelings take control nor did I stop living my life."
"As a cancer survivor, I am working as part of a support team to inspire others to win the battle."
Knowing the importance of keeping on top of things and being your own advocate, Carol continued to have regular mammograms and perform a monthly breast self-exam. In January 2011, she discovered a small lump in her right breast. "I called Fox Chase right away, and they were able to schedule me immediately."
The small lump turned out to be a different type of breast cancer. Carol felt confident knowing that the team at Fox Chase thoroughly discussed her case and arrived at a surgical solution. She underwent a procedure to remove the lump and surrounding tissue (a lumpectomy) and shows no evidence of disease. "Thanks to the caring and skilled doctors at Fox Chase, I remain cancer-free and energetic as ever. I will continue enjoying to live my life."