Since a December 2011 diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma — the most common type of breast cancer — Nancy Scarpelli says the most difficult part of her journey has been waiting.
Nancy met in January 2012 with Jackie Osland, MD, breast surgeon with Breast Care Specialists, a subdivision of Wichita Surgical Specialists, and general surgery residency program director for Via Christi Hospitals in Wichita.
From the combination of mammography, ultrasound and biopsy results and the knowledge Nancy had beaten ovarian cancer 19 years earlier, Osland recommended mastectomy surgery in an individualized “road map” for treatment. To help decide between single or double mastectomy, she ordered genetic testing.
There was a chance the cancers were related to an inherited gene mutation, Osland explained, which meant increased risk for more cancer. If Nancy had the mutation, it was possible her brother, Doug, did too.
“Waiting was difficult because of the potential impact on the ones I love,” says Nancy, 64, who retired in July from her role as a telecommunications engineer for Via Christi Health after 30 years of service. “If results were positive, it meant I could have passed the gene mutation to my son, Marc, and granddaughter, Beckie. Doug could have passed it to his two children and three grandchildren.
“In your mind you see and think of all those people you love,” she says. “You worry — you don’t think about yourself. I was elated when Dr. Osland’s nurse Katie called to tell me the results were negative. That was a good day.”
On Feb. 6, Osland performed a single modified mastectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy at Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis.
“The nursing staff at Via Christi in the surgical and oncology units are competent, compassionate professionals highly committed to serving the needs of their patients,” says Osland.
Because both nodes removed were cancerous, she removed 25 more. Those were benign.
In late February, Nancy began hormone therapy under the care of Pavan Reddy, MD, medical oncologist with Cancer Center of Kansas. The 5-year treatment uses a daily drug to prevent growth of remaining or new cancer cells.
As a participant in one of 17 clinical trials for breast cancer being conducted through the Wichita Community Clinical Oncology Program, she’s helping researchers test the effectiveness of drug-only hormone therapy against the standard treatment that includes chemotherapy.
“I feel terrific,” Nancy says. “I’m doing great. Dr. Reddy and my lab numbers confirmed it at my three-month follow-up visit.”
That’s good, because her list of retirement plans is long.
“I love to garden and grow flowers,” she says, adding she intends to apply for Sedgwick County Extension’s Master Gardner Program and spend more time on her yard.
Other plans include hand stitching the quilt she made with her son’s T-shirts from when he was a month old through adulthood; visiting friends in Pennsylvania and Marc’s family in Texas; and continued research of family genealogy.
“Life isn’t over just because you have a diagnosis of cancer,” Nancy says.
She says a highlight of the experience has been “little things shared with the people who matter most,” such as a care package complete with pink gardening gloves sent by Marc and his wife, Pam; the time and attention Osland gave in answering questions and explaining the path ahead; and encouraging words from her 13-year-old nephew, Keaton.
“Sometimes people don’t know what to say, but it’s not the words that matter, it’s the thought.”
What have you learned from your journey through cancer?
“Psalm 139:10 of the Bible says, ‘…your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast,’ and it’s true. God will hold you fast when you need him to. Especially on those hard days when you’re waiting — for a diagnosis or test results, or when you’re not sure what to do.”
What’s helped you survive?
“In addition to faith, information — from my physicians and websites such as breastcancer.org — has been terribly important. I’m a researcher and I want to know everything."
What advice can you share with others facing a life-changing illness?
“Don’t let questions and uncertainty get the best of you. It’s very hard when you’re not in control. Be willing to take a break and look to God for help.”
Breast Cancer: Risks, prevention, screening and improving your outcome
Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Time: 11:30-12:30 pm, lunch will be served
Cost: $5.00 per person, Via Christi 50+ members free
Registration deadline: Call 316.689.5700 by Monday, Oct. 15, noon
Location: Corporate Caterers 2949 N. Rock road, Suite 100