Beating the odds

Certain dates likely stand out in your memory because of how they impacted the rest of your life. For Tammy Myers, Oct. 15, 2009 is that date—the day she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Tammy Myers and Meg Shrader discuss Myer's experience at Augusta HealthLumps in her breasts weren’t uncommon for Myers, who suffered from fibrocystic breast changes, a noncancerous condition that makes breast tissue more bumpy than normal. But when one of her growths grew larger and eventually made its way under her arm, she knew something was wrong. Her surgeon, David Caulkins, M.D., confirmed her fear: breast cancer.

It was, in fact, stage III triple-negative breast cancer, a less common and typically more aggressive form of the disease that doesn’t respond to targeted therapies such as hormonal therapy and Herceptin (a drug which targets cells with the HER-2/neu gene). Still, it’s much more sensitive to chemotherapy than other forms of breast cancer.

The diagnosis was a blow to the then-47-year-old Staunton resident. “I considered myself the poster child of good health,” she says. She was even an organ donor, donating a kidney to a coworker’s wife who was in renal failure. But Myers faced the reality and, thinking of her family—especially her young grandchildren—declared war on the disease.

Getting Help

Myers became a patient of Emanuel Cirenza, M.D., a medical oncologist at Augusta Health. She was also referred to the hospital’s breast health navigator. Providing this invaluable service at Augusta Health is Meg Shrader, R.N., B.S.N., who helps patients navigate an over whelming number of resources and assists in coordinating care among the numerous physicians involved in cancer treatment. She accompanies patients to their physician appointments and takes notes so the patients can focus on listening carefully. Plus, she soothes the fears of those in remission who may be afraid that ny twinge of pain could signal a return of the disease.

Shrader herself is a triple-negative breast cancer survivor, so she identified with Myers. In fact, it’s part of the reason why she became a breast health navigator. “After I was Diagnosed, a friend told me, ‘you’re going to do something with your experience’,” says Shrader, who sees women on both a physician- and self-referral basis. Luckily for Augusta Health patients, this prediction proved true.

“After you’re diagnosed, you’re ready for someone to hold you hand,” Myers says. “Meg’s been by my side the entire time. She’s also been there for my husband and my two girls. She’s my angel.” Shrader was there to accompany Myers to her tests and answer any questions as she endured 16 weeks of chemotherapy before having a double mastectomy in February. Following that, there was another three months of chemotherapy, which ended in early July. Within a week of completing treatment, she had a recurrence of the cancer and is currently under going another round of chemotherapy, which is rapidly shrinking her tumors. The battle continues, but Myers knows she’s in good hands.

Just Like Family

Myers actually looks forward to her chemotherapy treatments. Coming to see the Augusta Health physicians, nurses and fellow patients is like visiting family, she says.

“The team at Augusta Health is amazing,” Shrader says. “The medical, hospital, and Cancer Center staff is dedicated to providing the best care for our patients. We want to give them a wonderful quality of life.” She loves seeing patients’ hair growing back and hearing patients ring the bell to celebrate personal victories and completion of treatment.

Myers has been so inspired by her journey that she foresees being able to volunteer her time to help cancer patients in the near future—even if it’s only to sit with them and offer a comforting presence. As a patient herself, she feels lucky for the treatment she has received.

Myers says, “It’s such a blessing not to have to travel to get great cancer care.”

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Have you had your mammogram?

Experts recommend that women get a yearly mammogram starting at age 40. Those who have a mother, sister or daughter who has had breast cancer, or have other risk factors, should discuss with their physician if they should get screened sooner.

Since 2007, the Women's Imaging Center at Augusta Health has offered state-of-the-art digital mammograms.

In preparation for your mammogram, follow these steps:
  • Bring mammograms done at other facilities with you so they can be compared to the new ones.
  • Avoid wearing deodorant or antiperspirant, which can affect image quality.
  • Wear a two-piece outfit; you’ll only need to remove your top when you get your mammogram.
  • Avoid having a mammogram the week before your period to lessen breast tenderness and discomfort.