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Old Forge Woman Meets Challenge of Breast Cancer With Fighting Spirit

It makes all the difference, says her surgeon

Erica Francis, 47, of Old Forge, shares a story that’s all too common: While showering, she felt a lump in her left breast. She’d had lumps in the past and had been told then to wait for a menstrual cycle to pass before getting concerned, so she waited again. A couple weeks later, she began the process of having her lump investigated. Later still, she was enjoying a beach vacation in Virginia when she got the call telling her she had cancer.

“It was our first day. I was there with my mother, my sister, my sister-in-law. I told my sister I didn’t want to talk about it,” Francis says.

She didn’t break the news to her mother until the vacation was over. A day later, July 3, Francis had her first meeting with her breast surgeon, Krista Bott, MD, with Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute.

Complex questions need answers

Breast cancer is rarely simple, but as Dr. Bott puts it, Francis “had a lot going on.”

“There were atypical cells in the right breast as well as the cancer in the left,” Dr. Bott says. “Those atypical cells put people at higher risk for breast cancer development in the future, and there’s also a small chance there may already be some near the atypical tissue. The tumor on the left was large, especially in terms of tumor-to-breast size ratio, so a lumpectomy could be disfiguring.”

Yes, for small-breasted women even a lumpectomy can be disfiguring. One option in such cases is to do chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor before surgery.

“That’s fine if the patient will need chemo after surgery, but you don’t want to give chemo to a patient who would not need it otherwise,” Dr. Bott says.

“Erica is fierce. She’s a fighter. She had a really great outlook and took everything in stride.” Krista Bott, MD

The key question was whether or not Francis’ cancer had spread beyond her left breast.

“So we did tests,” Dr. Bott says. “We biopsied the lymph nodes. Twice.”

Both times the tests came back negative for cancer, but Dr. Bott was skeptical. Somehow, things just didn’t look right. Still, she didn’t want to continue to biopsy Francis ahead of her surgery.

“We would always check those lymph nodes again at the time of surgery anyway,” she says.

Decision for a double mastectomy

Francis and Dr. Bott ultimately decided on a double mastectomy and removal of lymph nodes on the left.

“I was determined to just go ahead and do the double mastectomy,” Francis says. “I just wanted to be finished with it.” Her surgery was Sept. 13 at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest. She went home the same day.

And those excised lymph nodes did prove to be cancerous.

“I’m so grateful Dr. Bott continued to question it,” Francis says.

Because the lymph nodes showed cancer, her treatment has continued post-surgery with chemo and radiation. Her long, curly hair fell out, and she is very tired on some days, but otherwise is doing well. Dr. Bott is not surprised.

Focusing on healing

“Erica is fierce. She’s a fighter. She had a really great outlook and took everything in stride,” Dr. Bott says. “She never got in her own way. It makes all the difference.”

Francis has plenty of good things to say about Dr. Bott, too.

“She is amazing. I love Dr. Bott. She gets straight to the point, tells it like it is,” Francis says.

Francis’ biggest complaint had to do with all the “sitting around” she has had to endure while recovering from her surgery.

“Sitting around is not for me,” she says. “I’m eager to get back to work.”

In the meantime, Francis acknowledges that some things have changed:

“I’ve always been a caretaker. This is a new beginning for me. I now need to spend some time taking care of myself.”

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