May 24, 2023
Breast cancer survivor: second opinion led to correct diagnosis and treatment plan
BY Valerie Jones
Cancer is no stranger to Robyn Heid’s family. Robyn, the youngest of 10 children, lost a brother in 1992 to lymphoma and her father to prostate cancer in 1998. Two of her sisters were diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago.
So, when Robyn was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer at age 46, she felt it was simply “her turn.”
Robyn had no symptoms. Instead, an ultrasound during her annual breast cancer screening revealed a tumor in her breast. Later a radiologist called Robyn to tell her the diagnosis.
“I learned that triple-negative breast cancer was aggressive and the most difficult type of breast cancer to treat,” says Robyn, who lives in Austin.
She was scheduled to begin a year’s worth of treatment, which included six months of chemotherapy and immunotherapy and surgery, and then more chemotherapy with a local oncologist.
Watching her brother go through chemotherapy had been hard on Robyn, who was in high school at the time.
“I felt like I could get through everything but the chemo,” she says. “That part did scare me.”
An article from MD Anderson provides hope
Robyn did a simple search about breast cancer online and immediately learned the importance of second opinions. She came across an article on MD Anderson's website about a breast cancer patient who got a second opinion from MD Anderson, which changed her course of treatment.
“That article inspired me to seek a second opinion at MD Anderson,” she says.
Robyn was particularly inspired by this quote from the article: “Consult MD Anderson before you commit to a treatment plan. I was on the brink of getting treatments I didn’t need. MD Anderson adjusted my course and put me on the best path.”
“I knew the odds of that happening to me were very small,” says Robyn. “But the next day, I called MD Anderson just to see.”
Robyn was scheduled to start chemotherapy the week after Thanksgiving 2022. Instead, she made an appointment at MD Anderson for the following week. She had her first visit with breast medical oncologist Clinton Yam, M.D., and then she met breast cancer surgeon Susie Sun, M.D.
Pathologists revise breast cancer diagnosis
Robyn’s care team said her previous recommended treatment may have been too aggressive, and she may not need immunotherapy.
“I cried right in front of Dr. Yam’s nurse practitioner, Chasity,” says Robyn. “I was just so grateful for that piece of news.”
Later, Sun called Robyn and shared that when MD Anderson breast pathologist Keith Sweeney, M.D., looked at Robyn’s biopsy slides, he noticed the biomarker slides showed a mismatched metastatic tumor involving lymph node tissue.
“That raised a red flag because I didn’t have my lymph nodes biopsied,” says Robyn.
During his pathology review, Sweeney noticed the breast tumor appeared to be a less aggressive, likely hormone receptor positive type. He spoke with the pathologist in Austin, who confirmed the pathology lab in Austin had mixed up Robyn’s biopsy slides with those of another patient.
Sweeney’s pathology results confirmed that Robyn had a much less aggressive type of breast cancer: stage Ia ER/PR positive – or hormone receptor positive – breast cancer. It’s the most treatable form of the three molecular receptor subtypes of breast cancer.
Robyn was blown away when Yam shared this news.
New diagnosis changes the course of breast cancer treatment
This past January, Sun performed a lumpectomy to remove Robyn’s tumor. At the same time, plastic surgeon Paul Shay, M.D., completed breast reconstruction surgery. He completed a complex repair, which is a layered closure of the affected breast tissue.
Robyn recalls looking at her chest after the surgery and telling her doctors it didn’t look like anything had been done.
“Dr. Shay’s physician assistant, Ashley, told me, ‘That’s the best compliment we can ever receive,’” says Robyn.
The next step was to test to see if she needed chemotherapy.
Robyn’s doctors determined she didn’t need chemotherapy or immunotherapy. She completed three weeks of radiation therapy in March.
Aside from a light sunburn on her skin from the radiation therapy, Robyn experienced no side effects from the treatment. While she and her husband stayed in Houston, they spent some time exploring the city.
Grateful for a second opinion at MD Anderson
A lot can change in a few weeks. Robyn went from being given a severe diagnosis with at least a year’s worth of treatment to being diagnosed with something more easily treatable, requiring only minimal surgery and radiation.
“I’m like a walking PSA for second opinions now,” says Robyn. “My biggest piece of advice for anyone going through a similar experience is to always get a second opinion.”
Robyn has a follow-up appointment with Yam in June and her radiation oncologist, Michael Stauder, M.D., in September. She’s considering whether to take tamoxifen to reduce her chances of a recurrence, but she hasn’t decided yet.
As someone whose family has faced cancer many times, Robyn understands that many people have experienced tougher diagnoses and treatments. She says her experience has taught her a lot and strengthened her faith.
Her husband, Jason, learned that his father was diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer a week before Robyn received her diagnosis. He passed away in December.
Despite all he was going through, Robyn says her husband was very supportive throughout her entire experience.
Robyn is thankful for her entire care team, especially Sun, her nurse practitioner, Shiney, and nurse Pat, whom Robyn all calls “wonderful.”
“The level of skill, care and competency of my entire care team at MD Anderson was amazing,” she says. “I am consumed with pure gratitude.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
TopicsSecond Opinion Breast Cancer
I’m like a walking PSA for second opinions now.