Helping Hand

Navigator eases journey for women fighting breast cancer.

It’s not unusual for Judy Phillips to find a lump in her breast. She has a condition that causes benign growths to form there. She and her doctor carefully monitor them, of course, and she’s had numerous biopsies to ensure none of the lumps are cancerous. When one lump did begin to grow, however, her doctor gave it special consideration.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Judy’s fight with breast cancer was made easier by her breast care navigator.

“That lump was under my left arm,” describes Judy, a Keysville native. “It was deep and against the wall of my chest, and it hurt once in a while. I think the lump had been there for a while, but when they found it, it measured two centimeters.”
Concerned, Judy’s doctor referred her for a mammogram at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center in Bradenton. The imaging showed an area of concern. The radiologist performed a biopsy of Judy’s lump, and the test results came back positive for cancer.
It was during her appointment for the biopsy that Judy was introduced to Michelle Lynch, RDMS, CVT, CNBI, the breast care navigator at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center’s Breast Health Center.
A breast care navigator’s role is to support and guide women facing breast cancer through the complex maze of medical appointments and complicated terminology associated with the disease’s diagnosis and treatment.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done without her,” Judy says of Michelle. “She was there from the beginning, and she helped me set up a time for surgery, but then it got delayed, and she was the one who kept things rolling and helped get the surgery done.”

Breast Health Center

Michelle is a newcomer to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, which recently relocated its Breast Health Center from the first floor of the hospital to the Medical Arts Building on the medical center’s campus. The new location provides more space for new services and
technologies. The center provides comprehensive care for breast cancer patients throughout the continuum, from diagnosis through surgery and breast reconstruction.
The Breast Health Center is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including two 3-D
mammography machines and a 3-D image-guided prone breast biopsy system, the first in Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Ultrasound-guided breast biopsies are performed at the center, and a radiologist is on staff all day. The center’s spa-like environment is calming and comforting to its patients.
“Breast navigation was introduced by Harold Freeman in the 1990s at a Harlem, New York hospital,” Michelle relates. “Its primary purpose is to eliminate barriers to caring for women facing a breast cancer diagnosis, and there are many barriers.
“There are communication barriers due to a lack of understanding, or fear. There are medical system barriers such as missed appointments and lack of follow-
up. As a navigator, I follow the patients. I call them when they have appointments; I’m there with them. I’m with them during their biopsies. I hold their hands throughout the entire process.”
If a woman detects a lump in her breast, she may come to the Breast Health Center for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound. With a radiologist on staff, she will get the results of that study before she leaves the center. Her personal physician will decide her next step.
“Typically, if the area is concerning, the radiologist will recommend a biopsy, and that’s generally the time I meet the patient for the first time,” Michelle explains. “Much of what I do is make sure patients don’t fall through the cracks. That basically involves following up with each patient.

“As my navigator, Michelle answered my questions and talked me through the entire breast cancer treatment process.”– Judy

“Once the radiologist suggests a biopsy, I work with the patient to schedule the procedure. It’s important to me to make sure the patient is being treated and provided the support she needs.”
As a navigator, Michelle guides patients through the breast cancer treatment process by serving as a point of contact with the patients’ specialty physicians. She also connects the patients with the American Cancer Society and attends the biweekly cancer conferences where patients’ cases are discussed among the various cancer specialists.
“When patients don’t have great support systems around them, I support them when they go to their physician appointments,” notes Michelle. “I can translate the often confusing medical terminology for patients in ways they can understand.
“Judy had great support from her family, but she didn’t have a lot of understanding when it came to some of the medical information she was getting. That’s one of the reasons it was important that I was at her appointments with her.”

Positive Prognosis

During Judy’s surgery, the surgeon removed Judy’s breasts, lymph nodes and surrounding tissue to eliminate all traces of the cancer. In follow-up testing, no cancer cells were detected, and Judy was given a positive prognosis.
“The doctor said they got all of the cancer,” Judy confirms. “They sent a piece of tissue to California for a special test. It gives a percentage chance of whether the cancer is going to come back or not. I don’t know my exact results, but I do know it all looks good for me.”
Judy is now nearing the end of the reconstruction phase of her surgery, which includes having tissue expanders put in place. Gradually, the reconstructive surgeon will add fluid to the tissue expanders to enlarge them. Once the expanders get to the desired size, they will be removed and replaced by reconstructive implants.
“I’ve got one more procedure to go through to finish the reconstruction,” Judy says. “Michelle said she’ll be there for that, too. She’s been so faithful, and that really helps because she explains everything and tells me what to expect. That makes things a lot easier to go through.”
Facing a breast cancer diagnosis can be daunting, especially if a patient has to do it on her own. With the help of people such as Michelle, the Breast Health Center at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center makes sure no woman has to tackle that process alone. Judy says she will forever be grateful for the comforting hand Michelle gave her.
“Michelle was right there the whole time,” Judy marvels. “She sat there and explained what the doctors were going to do, and rubbed my hand and calmed me. She took the scariness away. There are very few people who can do what Michelle does, and she does an excellent job of it. She’s a blessing.
“As my navigator, Michelle answered my questions and talked me through the entire breast cancer treatment process. She’s been to almost every appointment with me and helped explain what the doctors say in medical language I don’t always understand. She’s been a very influential person in my life.
“Michelle and the rest of the staff in the Breast Health Center have really made things easier for me, and it’s been a positive experience. I think the main thing is to have a good attitude, and Michelle helps bring that out. She reminds me that breast cancer isn’t always terminal.”

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