Rapid Breast Cancer Care Leads to Promising Prognosis   

Rapid Breast Cancer Care Leads to Promising Prognosis

Cathy and her husband standing on the boardwalk in Asbury Park with her two dogs and bicycle.

Cathy McQueen, of Asbury Park, New Jersey, is a career-driven woman who’s used to rigorously planning her daily commitments. But she was never so thankful that schedules could quickly change when a suspicious dimple in her breast prompted a flurry of tests by Hackensack Meridian Health specialists that rapidly diagnosed her breast cancer.

Cathy, 51, had already scheduled an appointment in December 2022 with Roshani Patel, M.D., medical director of the Breast Surgery Program at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, to discuss removing a benign cyst on her right breast. But a few weeks before the visit, the marketing executive also noticed a strange indentation in the opposite breast, which she pointed out to Dr. Patel—who then sprung into action.

Right away, Dr. Patel performed a breast ultrasound and speedily arranged other imaging tests and a biopsy of the breast mass they revealed. This expedited care confirmed Cathy’s diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma—a rare type of breast cancer that begins in the milk-producing glands (lobules) of the breast—only days later, despite office closings related to the impending holiday season.

“Dr. Patel and her team could have told me to come back after the holidays, but they scrambled to make it all happen,” Cathy recalls. “I felt pure fear and panic, but at the same time, I knew I was in really good hands.”

Aggressive Approach to Combat Breast Cancer

Less than a month later, in January 2023, Dr. Patel performed a double mastectomy on Cathy, who opted to have both breasts removed because of the aggressive nature of her stage 2 disease. Nearby lymph nodes tested negative, meaning the cancer hadn’t spread. Genetic testing showed Cathy’s case wasn’t due to inherited causes, but chemotherapy and radiation were deemed necessary to ensure microscopic cancer cells that might have evaded detection couldn’t create problems down the line.

“This was a sneaky cancer,” Dr. Patel says. “Given how it seemed to appear out of the blue, we didn’t want to take any chances. I think Cathy wanted to have every bit of reassurance that this wasn’t coming back.”

Even with Cathy’s promising prognosis, the months following her mastectomy proved challenging. Unable to lift her arms over her head for nearly two months, she required her husband’s daily assistance. A six-month chemotherapy regimen didn’t cause major hair loss but did lead to a “seasick feeling” along with brain fog and extreme tiredness. The fatigue followed Cathy through five weeks of subsequent radiation treatments.

Optimistic Outlook for Her Future

Jersey Shore team members helped ease Cathy’s ordeal. Oncology nurse navigator Jamie Angeline answered all her questions and set up appointments, becoming “an invaluable partner during all of this,” Cathy says. Meanwhile, director of Oncology Kenneth Nahum, D.O., carefully coordinated her treatment to allow Cathy to attend a long-planned family reunion in Ireland.

“Every single person on my care team has been awesome and communicative,” Cathy says. “I can’t say enough about them.”

Because Cathy’ tumor was estrogen-sensitive, she also underwent surgery in October 2023 to remove her ovaries. She’ll take estrogen-blocking medication for the next five years, but she’s now cancer-free.

“I’m tired but optimistic,” she says. “I feel super lucky and grateful this didn’t spread. I owe that to Dr. Patel and her team for expediting my care.”

Dr. Patel says such responsiveness is standard for any patient whose circumstances require rapid, careful consideration. “I can’t leave someone hanging there and worried—it’s not in my nature,” she says. “Cathy’s going to do really well, and I think her attitude and family support also helped carry her through this.”

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