Life is more important than a breast. That’s according to Vickie Brown, breast cancer survivor from Great Bend. She should know, as not only did she battle breast cancer in her right breast, and had a mastectomy, she battled breast cancer in her lung and a form of hormonal breast cancer outside her rectum. For the past 14 years, Vickie has been undergoing some sort of cancer treatment. She credits the help and support of a higher power, her husband, children, other family and friends, as well as Dr. Mark Fesen at Central Care Cancer Center in Great Bend.
It started back in 2004, when Vickie found a lump on her right breast. She went to her family physician and he aspirated it, but the lump came back. She had a drainage tube put in and had it drained three times before the surgeon suggested a lumpectomy. Up to this point, no one had mentioned cancer because all the tests performed never showed cancer, but it was cancer. What kind though, was to be determined.
Vickie went ahead and had a full right mastectomy on March 1st, 2005. Her lymph nodes were also removed. She ended up in Houston at MD Anderson with more doctors and testing, which now showed cancer in her lung. This is also where Vickie asked, “what can we do if it is cancer” and her young doctor said she was going to die.
After a few more tests in Houston, a biopsy discovered the lump in Vickie’s lung was breast cancer. “I had breast cancer in my lung. The strange thing is I had no breast cancer in my lymph nodes, I had no breast cancer anywhere else but this lump and in my lung. On top of that, it was diagnosed as HER2, not hormonal.” About 1 of 5 of breast cancers are HER2-positive, which is a more aggressive form of breast cancer. The breast cancer cells test positive for a protein receptor called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. Sometimes the gene that controls the HER2 protein, and your body, creates too much of these receptors. At that time, Vickie was prescribed the drug Herceptin.
Vickie’s family history includes colon, pancreatic and lung cancers, but no breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning that they result directly from gene changes passed on from a parent.
However, since the beginning, Vickie had yet to see an oncologist and that’s where Dr. Mark Fesen from Central Care Cancer Center comes in. “I went for my first treatment on May 5th in 2005, and Dr. Fesen told me when I walked in the door, I can't cure you. But, I think I can make it chronic.”
A few months later, Dr. Fesen declared Vickie in remission. That’s after CT scans showed no more signs of breast cancer in her lung. Vickie continued to take Herceptin and other chemo drugs once a week for 18 months. That moved to once every two weeks and then finally a maintenance schedule of once every three weeks. She’s been on that schedule for 14 years in May of 2019.
During that time, Vickie had knee replacement surgery, broke her ankle which led to surgery, and just two years ago, got an infection in her port. She still has about 12 inches of line inside her from the subclavian vein to her heart. “It’s grown into the vein. So, I think my body just absorbs whatever. It just takes it on and keeps it.”
Throughout all of this, Vickie focuses on staying positive and she has some great stories to tell. “(When I was first diagnosed), I didn't know the doctor could give you a prescription for a prosthetic, so it was just me and my husband trying to figure out ways to keep my bra weighted down. He finally tried tying off the fingers to a rubber glove and filled it full. It worked, and I went man this is great, what is it? And he whispers…cat litter! I told him I'm going to have cats jump on me.” Vickie did have breast reconstructive surgery in 2011.
Vickie’s story doesn’t end there, as a year ago, during a regular colonoscopy there was a spot that looked suspicious. It turned out to be a type of hormonal breast cancer, which was located on the outside edge of her rectum. Once again, she was back with Dr. Fesen at Central Care Cancer Center. Vickie was taken off Herceptin and prescribed a chemo pill called Arimidex. She now sees the doctor, does a CT scan and has blood work done every three months.
“I have a very good support group. I have very good family and friends that support me, and I have always been treated very well at Central Care Cancer Center. I love this place. I was shocked when I didn’t have to go each week for some piddly thing.”
Vickie added, “I always think to myself there's always somebody worse than me. Always. I've had people that I've been sitting next to and I just want to put my arms over and say, here take some of me. Because I feel like sometimes, like if I just touch them, that I can help them.”
Breast cancer statistics show that monthly self-exams are important as well as getting an annual mammogram after the age of 40. 1 in 8 women and 10 percent of men will develop breast cancer. There is a 99 percent survivor rate if diagnosed with stage 1, 93 percent at stage 2 and 72 percent at stage 3 for breast cancer.
A routine mammogram for Karen Kindhart resulted in a biopsy, surgery and eight weeks of radiation therapy. Karen is a survivor of breast cancer. She credits her faith and loving family, Edward Jones, where she just recently retired from after 18 years and the staff and physicians at Central Care Cancer Center.
With no family history of cancer of any kind, Karen thought it would be easy enough to skip a mammogram once in a while, but the firm where she worked encouraged its employees to get mammograms, and paid for them too. In her annual mammogram, a lump was located. It was a lump not discovered by Karen during a self-exam or even by her doctor. As far as next steps goes, it began with prayer. “I am a woman of faith, and as terrified as I was, I knew that God would take my hand and walk me through it,” Karen said. “I had a biopsy done at Newman Regional Health and my surgery at KU Med Center (in Kansas City).”
It was there that Karen’s doctor encouraged her to have her radiation treatment at Central Care Cancer Center in Emporia. “When it came down to having treatments and scheduling treatments while still working full time, I was nervous about how I was going to be able to do treatments up there. So each day from work I would go to the post office, stop at Central Care for my treatment, go home for lunch and go back to work. It was all very simple, convenient and easy,” said Karen. Plus, by keeping her treatments local and close to home, Karen only missed four days of work from the time of diagnosis to the end of her treatments.
“I consider the staff at Central Care Cancer Center like family. The first time I walked in the door I was treated with a big smile and a warm welcome. As soon as I met Dr. Wong (Radiation Oncologist) and Justin (Branine, Radiation Oncology Manager), I knew I was in good hands,” Karen said. “There were points in the treatment that were hard, were difficult, and Justin and I had to make the decision whether to maybe stop and take a break for a couple of days or maybe go home for the day.”
I have cancer, Multiple Myeloma. At age 75, I chose to avoid bone marrow transplant therapy. Though I was frightened by the diagnosis, Dr. Anis Toumeh quickly put my mind at rest, noting that many other forms of treatment have been successful in controlling MM. I have been plagued with chronic anemia for a few years, prompting Dr. Toumeh to move into treatment while I still lingered in smoldering phase of Multiple Myeloma. After only four rounds of fairly comfortable treatment, I am making red blood cells again and having more energy these days!
I credit the progress to Dr. Toumeh’s invaluable expertise as an oncologist/hematologist and his ability to adapt treatment suited to my personal needs. Dr. Toumeh and his nursing staff have compassion for all their patients. The light atmosphere created by the nurses in the chemo room makes my treatment days so pleasant. My family and I have great confidence that my treatment at Central Care Cancer Center in Garden City is top-notch. My care is not compromised because I chose to be treated close to home. Thank you, Central Care Cancer Center!
My family has been a part of the Central Care Cancer Center for the past 10 years.
In 2008 my younger brother, John was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. At that time we were introduced to Dr. Leo and his staff and I cannot tell you how special we felt. We weren’t another number, we were treated as if we were the only patient/family there. (more…)