January 25, 2018
Mom, daughter face breast cancer 15 years apart
BY Mena El-Sharkawi
In the early 2000s, Virginia Plett watched her mother and aunt successfully undergo breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson. So when the Kansas resident received her own breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, she knew exactly where she was going for her treatment.
“My mother wouldn’t have stood for anything else,” jokes Virginia, whose mom Margaret Looper has been a volunteer at MD Anderson in The Woodlands for the past 13 years.
Virginia called MD Anderson in The Woodlands on a Friday, and she had an appointment that Monday. “I was absolutely amazed,” she says.
Better breast cancer treatment options
On Feb. 27, 2017, Virginia met with Elizabeth FitzSullivan, M.D., and the rest of her care team to discuss treatment for her HER-2 stage I breast cancer. Immediately, she and Margaret noticed how much breast cancer treatment has advanced in just 15 years.
“Dr. FitzSullivan was going through all of the options, and Mom didn’t have all those options,” says Virginia, who opted to undergo a lumpectomy, a less invasive surgery that spared most of her breast tissue.
Virginia had the surgery in March, and a month later, she then began a 12-week chemotherapy regimen of Taxol and Herceptin®. Despite her weekly trips to Houston and side effects such as hair loss, neuropathy, nausea and skin irritation, the school counselor never stopped working.
“I just kept telling myself, ‘This is all good, this is all fine. I can do this,’” she recalls.
Medical support across the miles
It also helped that Virginia could always count on her care team.
“There were a few times I had to contact the on-call doctors. Three times the doctors sent me to the ER, and all three times, that ER doctor was on the phone with the on-call doctor from MD Anderson, and the two of them together decided what needed to happen to me. That was impressive— that continuity of care even out of state,” she says.
Virginia completed chemotherapy in July and enrolled in a clinical trial with Pamela Schlembach, M.D., The trial examines the impact of shortened but intensified radiation treatments.
“I only had to do radiation for 10 days. That was huge,” she says. “I had minimal side effects from that. That was nice. There wasn’t any of the burning or anything.”
A mother’s gratitude for a happy ending
Virginia is still taking Herceptin®, but her life is mostly back to normal. Her mother couldn’t be more relieved.
“The staff of doctors that are at MD Anderson, they’re just wonderful. I see the difference in how the knowledge level has changed between my cancer and Virginia’s cancer. It was amazing to watch them,” Margaret says. “They gave us a lot of hope, and we’re all greatly thankful.”
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
TopicsHair Loss Neuropathy Radiation Therapy Minimally Invasive Breast Cancer Side Effects Diagnosis Survivorship Pain Biopsy Nausea Treatment Surgery
They gave us a lot of hope, and we’re all greatly thankful.
Survivor & Volunteer