Breast Cancer: A Survivor Story
Rachel Mere was enjoying a relaxing night at home last September, watching TV in bed as her 4-year-old son jumped next to her.
She asked him to stop and he came crashing down on her, his elbow bumping her right breast. She suddenly felt a sharp pain that wouldn’t go away. Mere would do a self-exam and discover a knot brought to light by a simple moment of horseplay.
She went to see Dr. William Groves, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital for Women.
“He did an exam on me and found the lump and immediately ordered an ultrasound,” Mere recalls. “That came back suspicious and so we moved on to an image-guided biopsy.”
The biopsy was done by Lake Charles Memorial Radiologist Dr. Richard Martinez on Friday, October 31. A Halloween that brought more fright for Rachel than the fun she normally experiences with her family on such a night.
Dr. Groves called her on the following Monday and uttered the words “breast cancer,” invasive ductal carcinoma, and said that it needed to come out right away.
“I had a lot of people wanting me to go to MD Anderson, but I felt very comfortable with the doctors and the Breast Health Center at Memorial,” Mere says. “When we first went into Dr. Ken Moss, Jr.’s office we saw a picture on the wall of a surgeon at work with Jesus behind him. Seeing that, my husband and I said to each other, ‘We are sticking with these doctors.’”
Dr. Moss, a surgeon with Memorial Medical Group, wasted no time and performed a lumpectomy on Friday, November 7.
The Lake Charles Memorial Cancer Center tumor board, which is a panel of doctors and cancer specialists charged with treating every cancer patient at the hospital, collaborated to determine the best path of treatment for Rachel.
The tumor was 2.7 centimeters and diagnosed at stage 2A, meaning the cancer had not yet spread to the lymph nodes. However, a fraction of it couldn’t be removed because it had grown into her chest muscles. It was also non-hormonal or triple negative, meaning that the breast cancer cells tested negative for estrogen receptors (ER-), progesterone receptors (PR-), and HER2 receptors.
This type of cancer, which is 10-20 percent of all breast cancers, is more rare. It can be very aggressive and is also more likely to reoccur. Subsequently, an aggressive treatment was planned including chemotherapy and radiation.
After Mere healed from her chemo port surgery, she began chemotherapy in early January with Memorial Medical Group medical oncologist Dr. Michael Broussard. Radiation treatment followed in the summer with Lake Charles Memorial Cancer Center radiation oncologist Dr. James Maze.
She was tested for mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes that came back negative. Memorial offers this type of genetic testing, along with consultation and options for women who find they do carry these gene mutations. These molecular diagnostic advancements help in early detection, which remains the gold standard in treating and beating breast cancer.
The BRCA is a blood test that uses DNA analysis to identify possible mutations in either one of the two breast cancer-susceptible genes — BRCA1 and BRCA2. Women who have inherited mutations in these genes face a much higher risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer compared to the general population.
Five to 10 percent of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations inherited from a mother or father. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common. Women with these mutations have up to an 80 percent risk of developing breast cancer during their lifetime, and they are more likely to be diagnosed before menopause.
About 85 percent of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. These occur due to genetic mutations that happen as a result of the aging process and life in general, rather than inherited mutations.
Treatment had its ups and downs with not only physical, but also emotional exhaustion for Mere.
“I lost all my hair, like completely bald. Eyebrows and everything were gone,” Mere recalls. “In the meantime, I have a five year old to keep up with.”
That’s where Lake Charles Memorial patient navigator Lenore Hayes provides support with a wealth of resources to help women traverse the physical and emotional side effects of treatment.
Hayes makes it a point to touch on the emotions, concerns, and needs of her patients and their families throughout different points in their treatment.
One such resource is the free wigs program at Lake Charles Memorial Cancer Center made available by the American Cancer Society (ACS) and Susan G. Komen Foundation. There is also a mentor program through ACS that Hayes helps establish with the patient, where they are introduced to other women who have traveled the road that they are now on.
Patients are also provided with national online support outlets as well as our community’s multiple support groups and resources here at home.
“Losing your hair or having a surgery that alters your body can be difficult for women to cope with,” Hayes says. “Many women identify their femininity with their hair. It can also cause difficulty for patients who want to keep their treatment private from work and/or their young children. Altered body image following surgery can be a hard transition physically and emotionally, sometimes affecting self confidence and intimacy.”
Hayes provides information to patients that are personalized to their needs in a comprehensive binder that takes them through their particular treatment process, including what questions to ask their various doctors and organizing their appointment schedule.
Plus, they can take comfort in the fact that Hayes will be there to guide them every step of the way, allowing patients and families to focus solely on healing.
“Lenore became my friend. She cares. She is the right person for the job. She made me feel like I was her only patient,” Mere says. “She helped me with the physical aspects of the treatment. She gave me books to help talk to your kids about cancer, books to lift me up and boost my spirit. It was very much needed because I went through a hard time.”
Today, Mere still has her chemo port in just in case there is a recurrence from the aggressive cancer. Though short, her hair has come back. She is starting to feel like herself again with her energy, strength and personality. All returning just in time for a redo of Halloween a year after a little boy and some innocent horseplay helped saved her life.
“It’s going to be fun. It will be a memory for the rest of my life. We’ll have that memory from last year,” she says. “My mom is a cancer survivor, my mother-in-law is a cancer survivor, and now I’m a cancer survivor.”