As a part of the team at Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN), I have always enjoyed interacting with patients. A few years ago, however, a life-changing diagnosis gave me the opportunity to have the LVHN experience as a true health partner.
My Colleagues Saved My Life – and My Baby's Life – When Cancer Struck
I turned to those I trust most when my life depended on it
My cancer diagnosis and care plan
My doctors have always stressed the importance of performing regular breast self-exams for early detection of breast cancer, especially because my mother and maternal aunt both had breast cancer. In fall 2019, I realized just how important a self-exam would become in my own journey with breast cancer.
I discovered a lump on my breast during an otherwise uneventful Friday morning. By Monday, I was seen by my OB-GYN and left with a referral to Breast Health Services at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest.
On Halloween, my two-hour ultrasound appointment turned into four when a mammogram – my first ever – revealed an abnormality. The next step: a biopsy. Just two days later, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma – breast cancer.
And I was 18 weeks pregnant.
Like all my pregnancies, this one was high-risk. When I received the breast cancer diagnosis, I had recently been seen by Joanne Quinones, MD, with LVPG Maternal Fetal Medicine. I would soon realize how important it was to have her on my care team.
My head was spinning. Would my baby be OK? Would I be OK?
The reassurance I needed in that moment came from my nurse navigator, Laura Beaupre, RN, who promised we would get through this diagnosis together.
She wasn’t the only one who helped me get through this challenging time. I also had Heiwon Chung Whang, MD, my surgical oncologist. Dr. Whang and I spoke at length about my options. Even after I left her office after our first consultation, though, I was anxious. She called me while I was on my way home, and we decided on an alternative that eased my nerves.
Time was not on my side. I could have received a second opinion, but decided without hesitation to trust Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute to keep me and my baby in mind as I started treatment. I put my full trust in my surgeon Dr. Chung Wang and Dr. Quinones, as well as obstetrician gynecologist D’nese Sokolowski, MD, hematologist oncologist Nicholas Lamparella, DO, and radiation oncologist Jeanette Blauth, MD.
Everything happened very quickly. My lumpectomy – surgery to remove cancer from my breast – and resulting tests on the tumor showed a high risk for the cancer reoccurring. That meant chemotherapy would become part of my care plan, and a medical oncologist would join my care team. Once again, my maternal fetal medicine team and my obstetrician were included in the discussions about every part of my care, from treatment to medications to the timing for when I might be induced. I was also referred to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to prepare for a possible preterm delivery and a lactation consultant to talk through options for breastfeeding.
I completed the first two rounds of chemotherapy while pregnant, and on March 18, 2020, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Five days later, I resumed chemotherapy. This time was different, however, due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place. With no visitors allowed, I completed the next six cycles of chemotherapy and 21 sessions of radiation without my family by my side. At home, I was caring for a newborn and 5-year-old. My colleagues were there for me through it all.
Now, more than two years later, my care team at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute still supports me. I am on endocrine therapy to help reduce the risk that the breast cancer will return.
My colleagues saved my life and made it possible for me to be the best mother – and best LVHN colleague – I can be.
Thank you to my colleagues
My story is one of thanks. To my nurse navigator to the treatment coordinators, infusion nurses, radiation techs, oncologists and many, many, more involved in my care – you were the strength I needed when I physically could not have someone with me and the cheerleaders pushing me forward. I have always been #LVHNProud to be a part of this health network, but having the patient experience on the “other side” has humbled me. I now appreciate firsthand the exceptional, integrated and compassionate care that LVHN provides every day. As a colleague, a mom and a cancer survivor – thank you.