It was during a yearly mammogram last July when Forestville resident Valerie Calhoun found out she had a tumor. After fighting breast cancer twice before, and after her mother’s battle with breast cancer decades ago, she was scared. Her primary care physician put Valerie in touch with MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s physician Dr. Tsaipali, who biopsied the tumor. The initial diagnosis was grim: it was a malignant, aggressive form of cancer, in Stage 3. A lumpectomy followed in September, when Dr. Tsaipali removed the tumor and four lymph nodes.
Chemo began last November. Valerie experienced hair loss, loss of energy and loss of appetite. When chemo treatments finished in February, which Valerie recalls as the toughest part of this battle, she began six weeks of radiation treatments. Chemo and radiation treatments also took place at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center.
Now, she is cancer-free, visiting Dr. Tsiapali every six months for check-ups.
Valerie credits her family, her faith, Woodstream Church in Mitchellville, and her team of doctors, led by Dr. Tsiapali, for her amazing recovery.
“Her bedside manner is the greatest,” says Valerie, of Dr. Tsiapali. “She takes time and explains everything. She gave me so much information and she’s very truthful; this is what it is, these are your options.”
Valerie’s story has a happy ending, like many breast cancer patient stories now do. With early diagnosis, proper treatment and follow-up care, breast cancer survival is possible. When it comes to Valerie Calhoun, she is thriving.
Breast Cancer: The Facts
According to the National Cancer Institute, one in eight women will develop breast cancer. Inherited genes and lifestyle factors can contribute to the development of breast cancer.
New tests and treatments are constantly being studied. Innovative lab and imaging tests, as well as the development of new treatments have led to declines in both new cases and mortality rates.
The best way to fight breast cancer is to have a plan that helps you detect the disease in its early stages. Create your Early Detection Plan to receive reminders to do breast self-exams, and schedule your clinical breast exams and mammograms based on your age and health history.
Breast Cancer: The Stages
Prevention: According to the Mayo Clinic, ways to lower your risk for breast cancer include limiting alcohol and stopping smoking, being physically active and controlling your weight, breastfeeding after childbirth, and limiting hormone therapy and exposure to pollution and radiation. MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s Breast Surgeon Dr. Ekaterini Tsiapali also recommends consuming alcohol, sugar and soy in moderation, urges her patients to eat fresh food and avoid processed foods and foods that are high in fat.
Early detection: Perform self-exams and regularly schedule appointments for mammograms and check-ups with your OB/GYN, especially if you notice changes in your breast tissue. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, when breast cancer is detected in its early, localized stage, the five-year survival rate is 100%.
MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center’s Breast Surgeon Dr. Tsiapali recommends mammograms beginning at age 40, or immediately upon discovering a lump or change. New technology with 3D imaging, available at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center, yields better results than traditional digital mammograms, says Dr. Tsiapali, and the hospital employs experts qualified to read breast images specifically.
Dr. Tsiapali recommends during this time, new patients be careful to refer only to reputable websites and resources, so they are getting medically accurate information that is up to date. A specific websites she recommends is the American Society of Breast Surgeon’s site breast360.org.
For women of childbearing age who are diagnosed with breast cancer, before her treatments begin, she may choose to preserve her eggs or embryos.
Treatment: With new medical and surgical breast cancer treatments, women who develop the disease are leading longer, fuller and healthier lives than ever before. Treatments are also becoming less invasive, more targeted and more personalized, providing even more hope. Treatments include hormone therapy, radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.
Dr. Tsiapali says it is a national trend to tailor unique treatment plans that are specific to each individual patient. This insures each patient’s case is treated on an individual basis.
Post-Treatment: Patients need to diligently follow-up with their treatment plans under their physician’s supervision. Continuing to eat healthy foods and maintain a healthy level of exercise can prevent the return of cancer.
MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center has genetic counselors who offer genetic testing for breast cancer genes, such as the BRCA test, and tests to determine whether chemotherapy would benefit the breast cancer patient, such as the oncotype dx test.
In addition, advancements in breast cancer surgery and in plastic surgery have resulted in less scarring and better looking results.
Weight management is also a part of recovery, as women who are being treated with chemotherapy may gain weight, not feeling well enough to get exercise during this time.
Patient navigators help with every step in the process for breast cancer patients, assisting with scheduling appointments, giving instructions and educational resources, as well as referrals for counseling. Psychological counseling is also a great resource for women struggling with body image issues and after effects of breast cancer and menopause.
Visit MedStarSouthernMaryland.org/BreastCancer for more information about the Breast Health Program at MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center.