Every breast cancer survivor has a unique story to tell, and Alexa G is no exception. Her experience highlights the importance of patients becoming their own strongest advocate. In order to take a very active role in her own care, Alexa’s testimonial also demonstrates that one of the most effective tools in approaching breast cancer is to never stop learning.
Alexa has had an extensive career in healthcare, working with elderly patients in long-term care and assisted living, supporting them through social work and support groups, working in administrative roles, and sitting on an Area Agency on Aging Advisory Board. However, it was an entirely new experience for Alexa to experience care from the perspective of a patient when faced with her breast cancer diagnosis.
Alexa had actually considered skipping a mammogram the year she was diagnosed due to screening guidelines at the time that suggested if a woman within a certain age group had a good mammogram the year before, they could then disregard the exam the following year. Even though Alexa was 63 at the time, her gynecologist thought this was poor advice—and for good reason—as Alexa’s mammogram that year did detect the presence of possible breast cancer. The American Society of Breast Surgeons (ASBrS) further validated her gynecologist’s sound advice earlier this year when they announced their new breast cancer screening guidelines that recommend annual mammograms and focus on risk-based screening for women.
Strength in facing a breast cancer diagnosis
After extensively researching and requesting the credentials of the surgeon she selected, Alexa went in for a stereotactic biopsy to confirm the diagnosis of the abnormality detected by the mammogram. During the procedure, she maintained a positive attitude as her research demonstrated that in 80 percent of cases like hers, the biopsy would not show cancer. But when the results came in, they told a different story.
“I found out that I was in the 20 percent group and my heart took a dive,” Alexa shared. “When you hear cancer, you go into mortality mode and start thinking, ‘Am I going to die?’ and ‘How much time do I have?’ There are a myriad of feelings and emotions when dealing with the chaos of trying to integrate the diagnosis process and the steps leading up to what you’re going to do about it. But I met with my surgeon and he told me that this cancer was DCIS stage zero, and that it was not going to kill me. That was very comforting and reassuring, and I started to regroup.”
Alexa still had a long road ahead, including both the emotional and financial burden that all breast cancer patients face often lingering long after their treatment is complete. Alexa also experienced complications from diabetes and hypertension which further delayed her medical clearance to have surgery to remove the cancer. When the lumpectomy was finally complete, she noted that the surgery was a “breeze,” which she again attributed to performing the necessary diligence to finding the right surgeon for the job.
Although the surgery reportedly went well, Alexa’s pathology reports suggested the possible need for re-excision, or additional surgery, to ensure that all of the DCIS cancer was successfully removed. After the emotional, physical, and financial burden that the first surgery had already placed on her, the thought of having a re-excision was overwhelming and enough to make her get a second opinion. Ultimately, Alexa decided to forgo a re-excision for radiation therapy instead, but varying treatment options and conflicting physician recommendations encountered along the way made the path to this decision incredibly difficult.
It was during this time that Alexa found out about a tool that can reduce the need for re-excisions and provide peace of mind to both patients and surgeons that all of the cancer is removed in the first surgery: MarginProbe®.
MarginProbe shrinks the need for re-excisions
“I went to my first cancer support group after the lumpectomy, we go around the room introducing ourselves, and one of the participants starts speaking about how the surgeons did not need to go in a second time because they used MarginProbe,” Alexa explained. “Bells are going off in my head and I’m thinking, ‘Why haven’t I heard of MarginProbe, and why was this never presented to me as an option?’”
MarginProbe reduces the need for re-excisions by helping physicians determine if a clear margin of tissue has been removed around a tumor, and it makes this determination during the surgery. With such a tool, it’s possible to avoid additional surgeries and the emotional and physiological impacts that can go along with them.
“I discovered that while the hospital where I had the surgery uses MarginProbe, my surgeon did not actually use it,” Alexa shared. “That’s why I recommend to anyone facing a breast cancer diagnosis that you have to be aware that you’re going to need to do extensive research on your own. Even if you have a support network of family and friends, you still need to serve as your own primary patient advocate. You need to demand answers and get a second, and even a third, opinion. In my case, knowing about MarginProbe in advance would have provided much more positivity and peace before and after my first lumpectomy, so I want to get the word out that such a significant device is available and that everyone should know about it.”
It’s been a year since Alexa’s initial lumpectomy. Based on the results of an oncotype test, Alexa is hopeful that she will not need additional surgery in the future, but added that she would have even greater peace of mind if MarginProbe had been an integrated part of her treatment from the beginning.
This being said, Dilon wants to encourage breast cancer patients to become their biggest advocate by asking their surgeon for MarginProbe by name if it is not initially presented to them as an option for their lumpectomy surgery. We also urge patients to further educate themselves on MarginProbe and how it can reduce the likelihood of costly, burdensome additional surgeries by viewing the educational resources and clinical data supporting our technology.