Healthy You - Every Day

A Lifesaving Decision

A mammogram at age 41 allows Christine Bainbridge to defeat cancer


In late 2014, at age 41, Christine Bainbridge made an important decision: to get a mammogram. That decision likely saved her life. The mammogram (and a subsequent ultrasound) showed she had breast cancer.

"I think about that—what if I had waited?" Bainbridge says. "What if it had been left to grow for nine years? Then what would I have been dealing with?"

All good questions considering her diagnosis of stage 1 infiltrating lobular carcinoma, an invasive cancer that is estrogen-progesterone positive.

Treatment after surgery and radiation includes five years of taking Tamoxifen, a selective estrogen receptor modulator.

Bainbridge, now 42, of Allentown had her post-surgical radiation and medical treatment at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN). Here's how that part of her treatment unfolded, and why it's made her a believer in the power of early detection.

Meet my navigator

Nurse navigator Laura Beaupre, RN, was the first oncology caregiver Bainbridge met at LVHN. "At the start, most patients don't know how long they will be in treatment; they just know they have cancer," Beaupre says. "I tell patients that I will make sure they have everything they need as they go through any treatment, and I will serve as a point of contact when needed."

Beaupre referred Bainbridge to genetic counseling to see if a gene mutation had caused her cancer. It had not. "If it had, it would've changed my surgery options from lumpectomy to mastectomy," Bainbridge says.

Beaupre also coordinated Bainbridge's doctors' visits and provided everyday assistance, including meetings with a licensed clinical social worker.

"Negotiating through cancer treatment is very difficult; your emotions are on a roller coaster among optimism, loneliness, fear and sometimes utter panic," Bainbridge says. "Having Laura call me to check in definitely helped."

During one of those calls, Bainbridge surprised herself by admitting she wasn't coping well. Beaupre arranged to have a licensed clinical social worker meet with her every Thursday after radiation treatments.

"I looked forward to Thursdays, because I'd have a chance to vent to someone," Bainbridge says. "Being honest and telling her I wasn't coping well resulted in a plan to help me feel better on the bad days."

My treatment journey

While Bainbridge may have had bad days emotionally, physically she tolerated radiation treatments well. She had 35 20-minute treatments from LVHN radiation oncologist Dennis Sopka, MD, with Allentown Radiation Oncology Associates, and had them done Monday through Friday on her lunch hour from her advertising job at Allentown's Cumulus Media.

Because Bainbridge's cancer was in her left breast, Sopka recommended prone radiation treatment, which meant lying face-down (as opposed to on her back) on a table. "That allows the left breast to hang down away from the chest wall through an opening," Sopka says. "It allows us to deliver radiation that generally misses the heart and lung completely."

Once her radiation treatment concluded, Bainbridge met with LVHN medical oncologist Adam Kotkiewicz, DO, with LVPG Hematology Oncology–Muhlenberg. "I will follow her continuously for five years, likely longer," says Kotkiewicz, who prescribes and monitors her regularly while on Tamoxifen, and will ensure she continues with annual mammograms.

For now, though, Bainbridge is trying to get as healthy as she can, from the inside out. She has taken up running and recently completed the Delaware & Lehigh Half Marathon. "This year was the year of kicking butt," she says. "After going through an experience like cancer, you start to feel like nothing is out of reach. Run 13.1 miles? Sure, I can do that. Why not?"

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