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Darlene Collins worries about African American women and breast cancer. As a breast cancer survivor herself, she knows from talking with friends that many women don’t have a firm handle on what all their options are.
“I worry that urban women don’t realize that they have the same access to a world class cancer hospital like Fox Chase as everyone else,” she said. Darlene hopes to speak to church groups and other areas of the community where African American women congregate. “Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in our demographic,” said this wife and mother, who turned 49 in 2013. “I can speak from experience.”
Darlene, who works as a supervisor for discharging at a Philadelphia hospital, had noticed some pain in her right breast in 2012. “My job requires that I get screenings, so I went for a mammogram, and they called me back for another test. Something looked suspicious.” While she was in the waiting room waiting for the second test results, a doctor came in and took her by the hand. “That was a dead giveaway that something was wrong,” she said. “He asked if I was by myself, and I said no, I was with God. Then he told me that I most likely had breast cancer.”
Darlene was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) which is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer. Although DCIS is an early stage of breast cancer, these women are at increased risk of recurrence or of developing a new breast cancer.
"I knew immediately I wanted to go to Fox Chase Cancer Center."
"After learning I had cancer, I knew immediately that I wanted to go to Fox Chase Cancer Center." At the time, Fox Chase surgical oncologist, Dr. Robert Burger, was treating her mother for cervical cancer. “From the moment I made the first phone call, everything about my treatment was seamless,” said Darlene. “All the appointments were coordinated and I was in Dr. Bleicher’s office a few days later.”
Richard J. Bleicher, MD, FACS, is a surgical oncologist and member of the Fox Chase breast cancer treatment team. “He gave me all my options and explained the diagnosis of DCIS thoroughly. He was very positive and made me feel like I was going to be OK.” Darlene opted for a double mastectomy with reconstruction. “I knew there was a history of cancer in my family, and I really felt comfortable making this decision." Dr. Bleicher referred her to Eric Chang, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon who specializes in breast surgery. Her lengthy procedure was performed on March 14, 2013.
Darlene reported that she experienced virtually no pain from her extensive surgery and said she felt almost back to normal three weeks afterwards. “I don’t have the breasts I had before the surgery – it took me a few weeks until I could really look at them," she admitted. "But when I did, I was like, okay, this is different, but it’s going to be just fine.”
Fortunately, surgery was the only treatment Darlene needed. “Because my cancer was caught early, I didn't need chemotherapy, radiation or even the drug Tamoxifen, like many other women. I feel healthier and more conscious of my weight and my overall health now that that cancer is out of my body.”
"I get positively bubbly when I talk about Fox Chase."
Darlene can’t say enough about the quality of care she received at Fox Chase, from the nursing and office staff to Dr. Bleicher’s and Dr. Eric Chang team. “I get positively bubbly when I talk about Fox Chase,” she said. “A co-worker of mine recently asked me about why I went to Fox Chase, and I explained, 'If you want a good cup of coffee, do you go to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts?' Fox Chase is the best.”