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A close-to-home breast cancer journey

Posted on Oct. 20, 2014 ( comments)
Angela Calhoun

Angela Calhoun with her sons after receiving treatment for breast cancer in Covington.

Angela Calhoun, a single, mother of three, knows more about cancer than most people. Not only does she interpret radiology reports for her job, she has a family history of the disease.
Angela’s grandmother had breast cancer and her aunt had it in her late 40s and early 60s, which prompted Angela to undergo genetic testing.
Fortunately, she does not have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation that can lead to hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. However, as a precaution, Angela began receiving annual mammograms at age 30.
A Covington resident for the past 20 years, Angela went to MultiCare Covington Medical Center for her screening mammograms. This year, however, her results were different. They showed an abnormal mass.
“Rather than having me undergo a diagnostic mammogram, the radiologist sent me directly to have a biopsy. I figured he was pretty certain of the diagnosis,” Angela recalled.
Her nurse navigator, Diane Miller, RN, calmly and kindly gave Angela her biopsy results — stage II invasive ductal carcinoma. In other words, Angela had a large tumor, but it had not spread beyond her breast
Angela received the news on a Friday and told her three sons — Cameron, 12; Jordan, 15; and Austin, 20 — the next day, when she’d had time to think about the best way to share it.
The information was, after all, positive. An additional genetic test performed in conjunction with her biopsy was negative, so she would not have to undergo chemotherapy. Her cancer had been caught early and her prognosis was good.
Angela briefly considered getting her surgery and radiation in Seattle or Renton, but learned she could stay close to home for treatment through MultiCare. 
Eunice Cho, MD, performed an outpatient lumpectomy at MultiCare Auburn Medical Center in March, two weeks after Angela’s diagnosis. 
When she’d healed from the procedure, Angela began treatment directed by Natalie Xu, MD, her MultiCare radiation oncologist in Auburn. She received 33 radiation treatments over six weeks.
To make the treatment more manageable, staff scheduled Angela’s appointments at the end of the day, so she could leave work in Federal Way, go to Auburn for radiation, then drive home to Covington.
On one occasion, her youngest son, Cameron, joined her. He’d been worried about what his mom had been going through. When he asked if he could see the radiation machine, the tech staff took him back to have a look.
“He was probably imagining some monster, but when he saw that it looked like a big camera, he was reassured,” Angela said.
She did well with side effects until about the fourth week of treatment, when she started to experience radiation burns. Dr. Xu prescribed a cream to help alleviate the pain and promote healing.
Angela felt her ideas and opinions were always treated respectfully and that she was a part of her own care team. When she found an organic cream she wanted to try, Dr. Xu wholeheartedly agreed and now recommends it to other patients.
By the end of her six-week regimen, Angela had bonded with the technicians, who gave her a certificate of completion, followed by hugs, best wishes and a request that she keep in touch.
Her medical oncologist, Daniel Moore, MD, oversees her ongoing treatment with Tamoxifen, a medication that suppresses tumor growth. Angela will continue with this medication for the next 5 to 10 years.
Angela said that throughout her treatment, she was impressed by the seamless and supportive way her team worked with her and each other.
“I didn’t really have to do anything,” she said. “Dr. Cho was in communication with Dr. Xu about my progress after the surgery, so they called me to begin radiation treatment when I had healed enough to do that.”
Yet another positive aspect was that Dr. Xu, Dr. Moore and Diane Miller were all in the same building.
“They’d make back-to-back appointments for me, which was so convenient,” Angela said.
At the end of Angela’s radiation treatment, Diane met her to go over a “personalized survivorship plan.” Diane summarized what the treatment had been and how it had worked and outlined how they would monitor Angela’s progress going forward. She made sure all Angela’s questions were answered and then went over paperwork.
When asked how she would choose to handle her cancer treatment if she had to do it all over, Angela replied: “I would do everything the exact same way. They made treatment convenient for me and remembered everything for me. I couldn’t have had better care. They were great.”
MultiCare recently expanded its breast care into the area's only South King County Comprehensive Breast Care Program.
More information
• Schedule a mammogram at 253-792-6220
• Connect with a breast cancer specialist at 253-876-8200

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