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Breast cancer patient stories

Our patients and their stories

These stories paint a picture of the expert medical care and excellent experience we provide to our patients and their families.

close up shot of Terri Beckstead

Superstar team key to Terri's recovery

Thanks to help from her cancer care coordinator, Terri Beckstead’s journey through breast cancer treatment became easier.

Josephine Chung says, My being here has everything to do with early detection.

Mammograms in your 40s? Our experts say yes.
And so does Josephine.

Although the value of screening mammograms for women in their 40s has been debated, there is no doubt that mammograms save lives. Just ask Josephine Chung.

The motto don't get mad, get even! has helped Tami Strantz recover from breast cancer and become a whirlwind fundraiser for breast cancer research.

Don't avoid breast cancer: Tami's story

Sooner is better than later for detecting breast cancer. Many statistics support this, but Tami Strantz of Cambridge, Minnesota, knows firsthand how important early detection is.

Sue is in her 40s

Early breast cancer leads to healthy living: Sue's story

When diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, Sue Gregerson decided to lead as healthy a lifestyle as possible. She shares how LiveWell Fitness Center's Take Action program helped her succeed.

Lavaan in her garden

Beating breast cancer and setting a new breast care standard: Lavaan's story

Shortly after losing her husband to cancer, Lavaan Stutzman found herself in a fight against breast cancer. She was in a clinical trial at Piper Breast Center that led to a new standard for breast cancer care.

Kristin with son and daughter

Early detection is the best protection: Kristin's story

During a self-exam four years ago she discovered a lump in her breast, which turned out to be breast cancer. At the time she was 42 years old, a busy mother from River Falls with two young children.

Superstar team key to Terri's recovery

Terri Beckstead outside on a sunny day, in corner of photo a picture of her cancer care coordinator Carrie Czech, RN

Terri Beckstead and, inset, her cancer care coordinator Carrie Czech, RN

Thanks to help from her cancer care coordinator, Terri Beckstead’s journey through breast cancer treatment became easier.

This fall, Terri Beckstead celebrated her return to good health by training for a triathlon. She’s happy to be active again after a long journey through treatment for breast cancer.

Beckstead, 48, learned she had breast cancer in August 2012 at United Hospital’s Breast Center. She decided on a double mastectomy, and several reconstructive surgeries and chemotherapy followed.

Now she has a clean bill of health, and she credits her “superstar team” at the Breast Center: oncologist Bronagh Murphy, MD, and surgeon Omer Sanan, MD.

One constant throughout the ups and downs of treatment has been Carrie Czech, RN, her cancer care coordinator. “Carrie helped me understand what I was dealing with and what to expect,” Beckstead explained. “She’s this comforting and compassionate person. I could call Carrie and say, ‘What does this mean?’”

Czech provides one-to-one support for United’s patients with breast cancer. Drawing on 20-plus years as an oncology nurse, she helps patients navigate the health care system, answers questions and connects them with helpful resources.

“I tell patients, ‘Call me when you don’t know who to call. I’ll point you in the right direction,’” Czech explained.

Czech sat in on Beckstead’s first appointment with Murphy. She wrote down key information about Beckstead’s biopsy and upcoming treatment. They reviewed the notes afterward, and Beckstead kept them.

“Patients get a lot of information early on, and it’s difficult for them to absorb it all. I can attend doctor appointments with patients and take notes,” Czech said. As patients gain understanding of cancer and learn about their treatment plan, their anxiety level drops. “Then, with our support, the plan feels doable and patients can handle it.”

Beckstead’s treatment was complicated by an infection after one of her reconstructive surgeries. She recalled that Czech would call and ask, “How are you doing? Are you clear about your next step?”

This allowed her to get support from someone outside her circle of family and friends. “From the beginning, Carrie gave me information to help me make decisions. No matter what happened, I always had Carrie to help me.”

Mammograms in your 40s? Our experts say yes.
And so does Josephine.

Josephine Chung serenely stands at her kitchen counter.

Josephine Chung says,
"My being here has everything to do with early detection."

Although the value of screening mammograms for women in their 40s has been debated, there is no doubt that mammograms save lives. Just ask Josephine Chung.

When Chung had her first screening mammogram at age 42, she had no reason to be worried about breast cancer. She was young and had none of the risk factors associated with the disease.

She wasn't even worried later that afternoon when she received a phone call from Piper Breast Center®. She needed to return the next day for additional imaging and possibly a biopsy.

"I had friends who had gone back for more tests after a mammogram," she said.

But the enormity of the situation hit her during that second appointment, when doctors decided to go ahead with a biopsy.

In her mind, she ran through all the reasons it was unlikely for her to have breast cancer. "I tried to think positively," she said.

A day later, she learned she had breast cancer. Further tests revealed cancer in two spots in her breast, and Chung needed to have a mastectomy.

Mammography controversy

Controversy about mammography screening came to light a few years ago when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that women begin having mammograms at age 50.

The American Cancer Society and other groups have recommended annual mammograms for women 40 and older for many years. This year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also recommended annual mammograms starting at age 40.

Breast health experts at Piper Breast Center agree — they see women every day who are diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40s.

Deborah Day, MD, a radiologist and medical director of Piper Breast Center, said that while women in their 40s are less likely to develop breast cancer than older women, their cancers tend to be more aggressive. Mammograms may not find every cancer, but women will increase the odds that they'll survive breast cancer if they get annual mammograms.

"I'm glad they [the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] changed their recommendations because I think we can really help these patients," said Day.

Some studies consider the costs involved in screening a large population. That's different from whether screening will save lives, explained Tamera Lillemoe, MD, a pathologist who analyzes tissue samples from breast biopsies.

"Early detection is one of the most important tools we have to increase breast cancer survival," she said.

Josephine and her children enjoy snacks at the kitchen table.

Josephine Chung's children, Ben and Elli, have talked openly about their mother's illness. Ben says he wants to cure breast cancer when he grows up.

Breast cancer's lasting impact

Josephine Chung needed no further treatment after her mastectomy, but the disease has had a lasting impact on her and her family.

"My being here has everything to do with early detection and a medical staff that was thorough and willing to follow up," said Chung.

"I hope my story will help other women make the decision to be screened. Don't put it off for another month or another year."

Learn about...

In the news: Josephine and her care coordinator


Josephine Chung shares how her care coordinator at Piper Breast Center played an important part in her journey through breast cancer treatment and recovery from surgery.

Read the video transcript on kare11.com.


Source: Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Healthy Communities Magazine, winter 2011
Reviewed by: Deborah Day, MD, medical director, Piper Breast Center; Tamera Lillemoe, MD, pathologist, Abbott Northwestern Hospital
First Published: 10/12/2011
Last Reviewed: 10/12/2011

Don't avoid breast cancer: Tami's story

The motto - don't get mad, get even! - has helped Tami Strantz recover from breast cancer and become a whirlwind fundraiser for breast cancer research.

The motto "don't get mad, get even!" has helped Tami Strantz recover from breast cancer and become a whirlwind fundraiser for breast cancer research.

Her breast cancer was not detected until it was advanced, and it made her treatment much more difficult.

Suspicious pain

A few months before her 40th birthday, Strantz felt pain in her underarms and breasts. She noticed a lump a few months later, but didn't have it checked.

"I have fibrocystic breasts, which often have lumpy-feeling areas, but I was also in denial and afraid to know that I might have cancer," she says.

When she noticed a discharge from her breast, Strantz finally went to her doctor. Anne Olson, MD, arranged for a mammogram and ultrasound the same day.

Strantz then had a biopsy. Within a couple of days she knew for certain that she had advanced breast cancer.

Her treatment began with a mastectomy and several reconstructive procedures. Strantz credits Cambridge Medical Center, the radiology staff and Oncologist Stephen Mann for quickly making her diagnosis and following her throughout a long cancer treatment process.

A professional connection

In addition to being a cancer survivor, Strantz is a nurse at Cambridge Medical Center.

She says surviving cancer "has brought more meaning to my work. When new patients come in, I understand the anxiety they are feeling. When I tell them I have been through it myself, they light up and ask lots of questions."

When Strantz meets people whose breast cancer was detected early, she knows they have less to worry about than she did.

"If you have any symptoms or changes, get it checked right away," Strantz says. "Don't let fear of cancer hold you back, and don't worry about feeling silly if it turns out to be nothing. I waited too long."

Learn more about...


Source: Cambridge Medical Center, Healthy Communities Magazine, fall 2010; Tami Strantz, LPN, Cambridge Medical Center
Reviewed by: Anne M Olson, MD, Cambridge Medical Center
First Published: 08/23/2010
Last Reviewed: 09/15/2011

Early breast cancer leads to healthy living: Sue's story

Sue Gregerson is a healthy woman in her 40s

When diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in January 2008, Sue Gregerson made a commitment to lead as healthy a lifestyle as possible.

After completing radiation therapy and checking with her doctor, she registered for LiveWell Fitness Center's Take Action program — an experience she calls an awakening.

"I learned so much through the personalized testing and assessments and through the goal-setting with the wellness coach," she said about the program.

Within a month, Gregerson noticed that she had more energy, and that motivated her to continue on a healthy path.

"Instead of a diet, I'm learning to change my lifestyle," said Gregerson. "I learned the importance of exercise and nutrition — and how they go hand in hand. I also liked that fact that they developed an at-home exercise plan that fits my lifestyle."

As a cancer survivor, Gregerson credits Take Action for helping her achieve her fitness and lifestyle goals.

"My prognosis is excellent. Through healthy eating and exercise, I am a lot stronger both physically and mentally," she explained. "I cannot say enough about the highly qualified staff members at LiveWell. They were always there for me. They figured out what would work for me. They gave me the tools to succeed."

Learn more about...


Source: Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, Healing Journal, spring 2009; LiveWell Fitness Center
Reviewed by: Timothy Sielaff, MD, PhD, FACS, president, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute
First Published: 08/17/2009
Last Reviewed: 08/17/2009

Beating breast cancer and setting a new standard: Lavaan's story

Lavaan works in her flower garden

Shortly after losing her husband to cancer in 1999, Lavaan Stutzman found herself in a fight of her own when a routine mammogram revealed a malignant tumor. Six months later, she discovered another rapidly growing tumor in her other breast during a monthly breast lump self-exam.

After defeating both rounds of breast cancer, she speaks glowingly of her experiences at Piper Breast Center, a program of the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

"My doctor and the Breast Center staff members were wonderful," Stutzman said. "They really paid attention to my questions and concerns. And they made an effort to create a caring environment where I felt at home."

While a patient at Piper Breast Center, Stutzman was in a clinical trial that led to a new standard for breast cancer care.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy

Stutzman was one of the first patients to have a sentinel lymph node biopsy as part of a study led by Daniel Dunn, MD. Dunn was one of the first surgeons in the region to use the advanced technique to determine if breast cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Traditional methods require the removal of all of a patient's lymph nodes. Sentinel lymph node biopsy requires the removal of only the first lymph node to which cancer typically spreads. A pathologist stands by to examine the removed node for signs of cancer. If the pathologist does not detect cancer cells, the other lymph nodes do not need to be removed. This significantly reduces the risk of side effects, such as swelling (lymphedema), nerve damage, pain and infection.

"For me, it meant a faster recovery time and fewer side effects," said Stutzman.

For breast cancer patients across the nation, the Piper Breast Center study led to better care.

"In six years, sentinel lymph node biopsy has moved from clinical research to our standard of care," says Dunn. "It's changed the way we treat patients with breast cancer."

Stutzman was so pleased with the care she received that she funded the creation of a brochure that explains sentinel node biopsy to patients. It was her way of giving back to the Piper Breast Center staff who "has given me so much."

Learn more about...


Source: Piper Breast Center; Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation, 2006 report to donors; Abbott Northwestern Today, summer 2003
Reviewed by: Timothy Sielaff, MD, PhD, FACS, president, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute
First Published: 08/17/2009
Last Reviewed: 08/17/2009

Early detection is the best protection: Kristin's story

Kristen McGregor-Linehan poses with her son and daughter.

After successful treatment for breast cancer, Kristen McGregor-Linehan is back to being the biggest cheerleader on the soccer field for her son Mason and daughter Ellie.

Kristen McGregor-Linehan describes herself as "a huge advocate" for monthly breast self-exams and mammograms.

During a self-exam four years ago she discovered a lump in her breast, which turned out to be breast cancer. At the time she was 42 years old, a busy mother from River Falls with two young children.

She asked herself, "How can I have breast cancer? I'm in my early 40s. I thought breast cancer affects older women."

Today, Kristen is doing well and has no evidence of cancer. She is thankful that her cancer was found early, when chemotherapy and radiation treatments could be successful.

"Mammograms, X-rays of the breast, are important because they detect cancer much earlier than physical exams," said Carrie Torgersen, MD, a family practice physician at River Falls Medical Clinic (RFMC).

"In the last few months, I have had two younger women with early cancers detected that could not be felt during an exam. The mammogram was critical in these situations."

When a lump is large enough to be felt, "I usually see cancers that are much more advanced," Torgersen noted.

Kristen speaks up to friends and relatives about the need for yearly mammograms for women older than 40 and self breast self-exams.

"I know women in their early 40s who still haven't had a mammogram," Kristen said. "I ask them, 'Wouldn't you rather do this preventively and catch something earlier rather than later?' As women, we need to use all of the tools we can."


Source: Healthy Communities Magazine, Fall 2012 edition
Reviewed by: Carrie Torgersen, MD
First Published: 10/01/2012
Last Reviewed: 10/01/2012