Physician Team Helps A Patient Beat Stage 3 Breast Cancer
Michelle Park, 57, may be one of the most positive, upbeat people you’ll ever meet. But sadly, breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. It’s now the most common cancer found in American women (except for skin cancers)—with more than 266,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer expected to be diagnosed in 2018.*
Michelle’s journey with breast cancer began in April 2016, when her routine mammogram delivered suspicious results. She wasn’t worried initially. She started having annual mammograms at age 40—and even received a few suspicious results over the years due to dense breast tissue—but everything always proved to be fine. Not this time. Michelle returned to the office for a needle biopsy, and a few days later, the pathology report indicated cancer in her right breast.
“I was completely shocked,” said Michelle.
“I have no family history of breast cancer and I had no symptoms—there was no lump, I felt fine and had lots of energy.”
A follow-up breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, a diagnostic technique to help further detect cancer, located the primary mass and indicated a swollen lymph node under Michelle’s arm. Further testing determined that Michelle’s cancer was Stage 3 and fairly aggressive. To fight the looming battle, Michelle relied on the expertise of her PIH Health Physicians’ team, which included Kennith Thompson MD, general surgeon; Edwin Lin MD, oncologist; Jeffrey Yuen MD, radiation oncologist; and Neil Klein MD, plastics and reconstructive surgeon.
Each specialist played a valuable role in bringing Michelle from a place of treatment to a place of stable health. Working together, they helped Michelle choose the best treatment plan—a journey that would last more than two years. Michelle’s first step was six rounds of chemotherapy, one treatment every three weeks to help shrink the tumor. To maintain a sense of normalcy, Michelle continued her day-to-day work routine on a reduced schedule, engaged with family and friends and started attending the
PIH Health Breast Cancer Support Group, which meets monthly for education, discussion and encouragement among patients and loved ones.
After recovering from chemotherapy, Michelle had both breasts removed during a bilateral mastectomy in December 2016, followed by seven weeks of daily radiation therapy on the right chest wall beginning March 2017. Six months later, Michelle was ready to begin the breast reconstruction process with Dr. Klein, who used a progressive process called “fat grafting.” “In fat grafting, fat tissue is removed from other parts of the body—usually the thighs, belly and buttocks—by liposuction,” explained Dr. Klein. “The tissue is then injected into the breast area during reconstruction, over the course of 12-18 months. Michelle’s body is responding very well, and I’m optimistic that the final result will be excellent,” Dr. Klein added.
Through it all, Michelle has kept smiling, and remains optimistic. She has even become a mentor for newly diagnosed patients through PIH Health’s Breast Cancer Support Group. “This journey would not have been possible without the incredible specialists at PIH Health who did amazing work to help me beat breast cancer. They were all so caring and compassionate—while cancer is not fun, not having the stress of dealing with multiple treatments alone, was instrumental in helping me keep a positive attitude to beat this insidious disease," she said. My support network was invaluable, too. Between family, friends, coworkers, my PIH Health nurse navigator and relationships built at the PIH Health support group, I felt loved and encouraged every step of the way.”
PIH Health Breast Center Whittier has been designated as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology. The Breast Center is part of a complete team of specialties that diagnose and treat breast cancer. The PIH Health Whittier Hospital Breast Cancer Program has received accreditation by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC), a program administered by the American College of Surgeons.
To schedule a mammogram, call 562.906.5692, or make an appointment online at PIHHealth.org/Mammogram.
*American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org)