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Like many women have experienced, Diane Check got a call back after a mammogram: something a little fuzzy on the films that needed further investigation. She had a follow up ultrasound and was given a clean bill of health. That was in February 2013.
“Of course you go on your merry way thanking God that you dodged a bullet,” recalled the Doylestown, PA resident. Until about four months went by, and she started feeling an odd hardness under her arm. She’d just turned 53.
“Honestly I didn’t pay much attention. A lot is happening body-wise at this stage of my life,” she recalled. “I figured, hey, I just had a mammogram and an ultrasound, I’m fine.”
Diane could feel several breast lumps and finally called her doctor.
By July, the lump had gotten larger. “I didn’t have time to worry. My son was going off to college. I had all kinds of things going on and just figured I’d get it checked later.” Diane finally called her gynecologist in August. “By then I could feel several breast lumps,” she said. Her doctor ordered a biopsy right away which revealed three fast growing tumors and a lymph node under her arm the size of a golf ball. Diane had triple negative breast cancer.
The three most common receptors known to fuel breast cancer growth are estrogen, progesterone, and the HER-2/neu gene. When these receptors are not present in the tumor, the cancer is called triple-negative breast cancer. Hormone therapy, which is often used to treat breast cancer, is not effective without these necessary receptors. Therefore, chemotherapy is the best treatment option for triple-negative breast cancer.
Armed with this information, Diane and her husband met with several doctors to figure out the next step. They wanted to stay at their local hospital in Doylestown under the medical guidance of Sarah Goodyear, MD, who completed her fellowship at Fox Chase Cancer Center. "Dr. Goodyear recommended that I consider Fox Chase for surgery,” recalled Diane. Dr. Goodyear started Diane on a chemotherapy regimen to reduce the size of her tumors so she could be a candidate for surgery. During her initial treatment, Diane made some radical changes in her lifestyle. She lost weight as a result of changing her eating habits and started exercising. Her tumors responded dramatically to the chemotherapy, and all but disappeared.
"When I met her, I knew that Dr. Boraas was the surgeon for me!"
“I kept hearing about a breast surgeon at Fox Chase named Marcia Boraas,” she said. “Through different conversations, eight different women recommended her to me. When I met her, I knew that Dr. Boraas was the surgeon for me!”
Diane recalls Dr. Boraas as a calming presence, a surgeon with an attitude from the start that ‘we’re going to get through this together.’ “She’s caring and compassionate, she listened, she looked me straight in the eye. I felt understood and reassured.”
After careful thought, Diane made the difficult decision to undergo a double mastectomy without reconstruction. “Dr. Boraas I talked in great length,” Diane recalled. “She was very clear that it was my decision and she would support me. I didn’t want to have fake breasts. I’d rather not have any breasts at all. I knew I’d feel more natural without them.”
Marcia Boraas, MD, FACS, performed the mastectomy in January 2014. “Dr. Boraas gave me surgical smiles. My scars are beautiful," shared Diane. "From day one, I have never felt uncomfortable or unsure of my decision. Maybe because I’m 54 – and my husband supported me 100 percent – I feel completely secure as a woman. Nothing has changed."
"Dr. Hayes and her entire staff were amazing and her office was extremely convenient."
Fox Chase Cancer Center operates a satellite facility for radiation therapy in Buckingham, PA, just minutes from Diane's house. Her medical team recommended radiation therapy after surgery. Diane met with Shelly B. Hayes, MD, director of Radiation Oncology at Buckingham. "Dr. Hayes and her entire staff were amazing and her office was extremely convenient,” she said.
Today, post treatment and surgery, Diane’s body shows no sign of cancer. “My feeling is, ok, cancer, you didn’t win. I never gave it a capital C,” said Diane. “Now is my time to heal – and Fox Chase Cancer Center is a big part of the healing process. I’m ready to live a different life with a different body – a new body that I love.”
It’s been more than a year and I am still so happy with my decision to not have breast reconstruction. The healing took weeks, not months and today, my scars are just a faint reminder of the breasts I once have. And, just a subtle reminder that the cancer once inside of them is no longer there, a reassuring thought.
I have found great micro-beaded breast inserts that are both lightweight and feel completely natural. My body looks great and I feel great. And at times, I just go without and am thankful for the body I see in the mirror. A little strange at first, but for me, completely natural. And, I thank God that I continue to share my breast cancer journey with many; encouraging them to be strong, courageous and take the first important step to making the right decision for their own cancer journey.