By Karen Gorby
Chief Executive Officer/Chief Nursing Officer, Angel Medical Center
We’re reminded every October that it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, as we hear reminders about the importance of mammograms, information about research and treatments, and plans for upcoming fundraising walks.
This month we’re fortunate to be able to share the story of one of our own community members who faced this diagnosis last year, and she hopes her story of strength and hope will help others. Gwen Bradley works directly with me as an Administrative Assistant, so her story hits particularly close to home.
Gwen, now 43, went to her regularly scheduled physical last June and mentioned to her primary care physician that she’d noticed something strange on her right breast. He did a clinical exam and didn’t feel anything, but her doctor told her to go ahead and get a baseline mammogram. “I got my mammogram and an ultrasound on the same day here at Angel,” Gwen explains, “and they found a tumor in my left breast. From then on my case was ‘fast forwarded.’”
Gwen’s diagnosis was followed by a lumpectomy on the 15th. In mid-July she underwent lymph node removal and cancer was present in the nodes as well. Because of Gwen’s young age at diagnosis, she was encouraged to get genetic testing. It revealed that she had the BRCA2 mutation.
BRCA2 is one of the first two widely known breast cancer genes that were discovered in the mid-1990s. When mutated, BRCA2 can increase the likelihood of breast and ovarian cancer and those with the gene tend to be diagnosed at younger ages. The randomness of the gene’s expression within families was reflected in the fact that when Gwen’s mother was tested, she was negative for both genes.
Because Gwen’s treatment began promptly after her diagnosis and included multiple surgeries and chemotherapy, she likens it to “a freight train on a fast track. I’m actually grateful for this,” she adds, “because we just got the hard part done right away.”
“I started chemo in August, finished in November, and had a bilateral mastectomy and a full hysterectomy this past winter,” declares Gwen. Her oncologist deemed radiation treatment unnecessary because of her double mastectomy. “That was a silver lining,” she says.
Of course, in addition to the medical details of a breast cancer diagnosis, there’s also the emotional side of coping with the disease. One of the hardest things for many women who receive chemotherapy is when they lose their hair at the beginning of treatment. “My hairdresser and some friends actually planned a surprise for me at my salon; they made cutting my hair more like a party. It felt wonderful to be surrounded by their love and support,” Gwen says.
Another important piece of the journey is assembling your care team, which can consist of an oncologist, surgeon, nurse navigator, and radiology physician, as well as an emotional support team of trusted friends and family. Fortunately, Gwen had both. “In terms of my medical care, I always felt like I was in the best hands,” confirms Gwen. “Everyone has been wonderful, and everyone who administered my treatment was skilled and caring.”
Gwen cites her mother as the one she leaned on the most through everything. “I absolutely don’t know what I would’ve done without her – she was always there for me, and still is.” She adds that her best friend happens to be a nurse, and he was another strong source of support. Gwen wanted to protect her husband from the worst of what she was going through because of a loss of his own. “Unfortunately, his mother passed from breast cancer about 10 years ago, so it was hard, but he was my rock,” says Gwen.
Not surprisingly, Gwen urges every woman to, when it comes to preventive and self-care, “…do what you’re supposed to do – your self-exams and mammograms. If something seems strange, listen to your body and pursue it.” She encourages those who are going through breast cancer treatment to “keep your head high, and know you’re going to get through this one way or another.”
Gwen’s thrilled to be back at work and is feeling stronger each day. “I’m just thankful for my workplace and coworkers, my community, and my friends and family – their love truly kept me going.”
For my part, I’m delighted and relieved to have Gwen back where she belongs. Know that we’re here at Angel Medical Center to care for you, to provide preventive care and screening as part of your routine care, and we’re equipped with the latest treatments and deep compassion should you be diagnosed with breast cancer. At Angel, you’ll never walk this path alone.
Karen S. Gorby, RN, MSN, MBA, CENP, FACHE, is Chief Executive Officer and Chief Nursing Officer of Angel Medical Center. Gorby is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). For nearly three decades, she has served hospitals and health systems in Ohio before assuming her role at Angel Medical Center. Gorby received her MSN from Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, and her MBA from Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio.