From diagnosis to reconstruction, breast cancer patient finds total care at Rome Memorial Hospital

     When her gynecologist reminded Christine Wickham that she was a bit behind in getting her routine mammogram, the 43-year-old admitted it was not on her top-10 things-to-do list.

    “This was only my second mammogram,” Chris said, “so I was not that concerned. There was no history of breast cancer in my family, so I really never thought I could be at risk.”

    Fortunately for Chris, she listened to her doctor and made an appointment for the mammogram at the Women’s Imaging Center at Rome Memorial Hospital. Unfortunately, the mammogram results were not at all what Chris was expecting.

    After having several additional views taken during her mammogram, radiologist John Restivo M.D., came in to speak with Chris.

    “Dr. Restivo told me that the mammogram showed micro-calcifications in three areas and that these areas needed to be biopsied,” Chris explained. Dr. Restivo explained to Chris that the best option for her would be a stereotactic breast biopsy, because the areas of micro-calcification were best viewed by mammogram. Now Chris was concerned, and anxious about having to have the biopsy procedure, but she knew she was in good hands because she works as a radiologic technologist at Rome Memorial Hospital.

    Chris met with Nurse Navigator Linda right away, and a relationship was forged that would become extremely important for Chris over the next few months.

    “Linda was there from the moment we started planning the biopsy,” Chris said. “She was there for me the entire time, giving me an exact description of what was going to happen.” New equipment for this type of procedure had just been installed at Rome Memorial Hospital, and Chris was the first patient to undergo a stereotactic breast biopsy there.

    The results of the biopsy confirmed that all three suspicious areas were positive. Chris had breast cancer.
    “It’s frightening,” Chris remembered. “My first thought was, ‘how do I tell my husband.’” Chris and her husband, Randy, have been married for five years. “When I first got the cancer diagnosis, it took me a while to accept it,” Chris said. “Then I withdrew a bit to give myself time to process what was happening. I had a few meltdowns along the way, but Randy was right there to help me through it. Then I came out fighting.”

    Chris said that she is so glad that she listened to her doctor and got her mammogram. Because of it, her cancer was detected early. She did see an oncologist, but decided that the best way for her to fight her cancer was to have her breasts removed, a procedure known as a bilateral mastectomy.

    Chris credits her Nurse Navigator for giving her all the information she needed to make an informed decision. “Linda went over all the options with me, but I knew what I wanted to do,” Chris said. “I wanted to be certain that I would not have to go through this again.”

    Surgeons Beth Bulawa, M.D. and Shuban Moza, M.D. performed a bilateral mastectomy on Chris in Rome Memorial Hospital on March 16. Plastic surgeon Carl Krasniak, M.D. also attended during the mastectomy surgery to begin the process of reconstructive surgery.

    Again, Linda was there to support Chris. “Prior to surgery, she was right there, calming my nerves,” Chris said. Even during the surgery, Linda was able to be a liaison for Chris’ family. After the doctors performed a sentinel node biopsy to see if any cancer cells had spread to Chris’ lymph nodes, Linda was able to deliver the good news to the family that Chris’ lymph nodes were clean. When Randy heard this, he nearly knocked Linda over he was so overjoyed.

    Linda explained that it is not only the person fighting cancer that she considers “the patient.” She is there to help support family members as well.

    “I’m there for people as much as they feel comfortable with,” Linda explained. “Some patients need me more than others.”

    Chris said that she did need Linda in the days following her surgery. “The internet is the scariest place when you’re trying to find information about breast cancer. I tried chat rooms and read articles, but they did not help me to feel better and only increased my anxiety. To be able to talk things over with Linda, ask questions, talk about my fears before surgery, after surgery, even during the recovery period, helped me so much.”

    As a nurse, Linda said that she recommends that those looking for cancer information on the internet use reliable sources of information. The American Cancer Society website is the one she trusts for her patients.

    Having the support of her husband also helped Chris through the hard parts of her recovery. “He was my rock, my hero, my strength,” Chris said of her husband. “He was right there with me through the entire thing. I can’t imagine going through this without him.”

    Chris was also grateful to be able to go through the entire process, from mammogram, to biopsy, to surgery to reconstruction, all in one place, Rome Memorial Hospital.

    “This situation was scary enough, it was nice to be in a place where I felt comfortable,” Chris said. “But my health was my number one priority. Knowing the people that work at Rome Hospital as well as I do, I was confident in my operating room staff, the recovery room staff, the anesthesiologists, as well as the doctors and nurses. Even though I would be going through this very personal and intimate situation with people I know, I still felt that Rome Hospital was where I needed to be. I knew from experience that I would be treated like a person there, not a number.”

    Today Chris is looking and feeling like her old self again, with one exception.

    “It’s amazing to think that in February I was a person with cancer and now, after facing it head on, I am cancer free and ready to get on with my life,” Chris said.

    Although fighting breast cancer is a difficult process, both emotionally and physically, Chris said the most important thing she has learned is that a breast cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence.

    “Different people may fight this differently, but I am completely at peace with my decisions,” Chris said. “I am proud of myself for what I went through, and if anyone can get insight from hearing my story, then I am glad to share my experience.”