When I was diagnosed with stage I breast cancer almost a year ago, I went through all the standard emotions: disbelief, anger, fear and utter confusion.
As someone in perfect health, according to my charts, I was suddenly confronted with something beyond my control. No matter what I did, I still had cancer, and there were no guarantees that I would be cured.
Deciding where to go for breast cancer treatment
After the initial shock of the diagnosis lifted, I knew that I needed to act. Where to start? An oncologist? A surgeon? Was it more important where they had studied, what hospital they were associated with, how many patients they treated or the personal connection between us? I, like others who go down this path, had a dizzying array of choices to make with, frankly, only limited guidance.
My gynecologist had given me the name of three Houston oncologists to choose from for breast cancer treatment, but it was up to me to check them out. I started calling friends and colleagues who either had personal or professional connections to the Texas Medical Center.
I began making appointments and talking to surgeons and oncologists alike. I had more MRIs. Pretty much all the doctors I spoke to recommended the same breast cancer treatment plan: surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. And at that point I realized that what mattered most to me was a connection with the physicians who would treat me, an open and caring environment and staff, and a definitive plan moving forward.
My breast cancer treatment in MD Anderson's Multi Team Clinic
About that time, a friend suggested a new multidisciplinary approach at MD Anderson and called on my behalf to set an appointment. All I knew was that, over the course of a day, I would undergo additional tests and meet with a dedicated team of MD Anderson physicians assigned to treat me in the Nellie B. Connally Breast Center's Multi Team Clinic. As a Houston resident, I felt like this was incredibly convenient. So, why not try it?
After a morning of tests and a round of questions by a very competent physician's assistant, my husband and I patiently waited in an exam room. Suddenly, the door flew open, and there were three animated doctors swarming around me: a surgeon, a radiologist and an oncologist.
Each asked me questions, and I did the same as they examined me. We covered everything from what my day-to-day routine was like, did I have any pain or other symptoms as well as my fears and concerns (will I lose all my hair, will I be able to work during treatment, etc.)
In addition to my physical condition, they also asked about my personal and professional life. What did I do for a living? Did I travel? What kind of exercise did I enjoy? All of us, including my husband, were part of the conversation.
They left to confer, and shortly thereafter the surgeon returned. To my amazement and joy, she said, "OK, here's the plan." She outlined surgery that was scheduled for the following week, the option to have in-cavity radiation and then timing on chemo based on what the pathology from my tumor showed following surgery.
What? A plan of action and a timetable? And it was all confined to one, incredibly caring place with a team who talked to each other and, more importantly, to me? Done deal.
The rest, as they say, is history. Thanks to a loving support system of family, friends and colleagues, I was able to continue working throughout my breast cancer treatment. My doctors and technicians made a difficult time easier because I always felt that I was more than a statistic and I could (and still do) ask any question I wanted.
And today? I appear to be cancer-free, and feel strong and sassy as I happily watch my hair grow back.