Fighting the Good Fight

Sandy Bazan with her husband JohnForty-four-year-old Sandy Bazan sat across from Augusta Health surgeon William Thompson, M.D., FACS, waiting for the response that could change her life.

"You think I have breast cancer?" she asked the doctor.

"I'm too young for that," the mother of two teenage boys thought.

That was October 2009, just a few short months after she first found a lump in her right breast. Though her breast tissue had always been a little lumpy, she knew deep down that this time was different.

Results from her biopsy confirmed Dr. Thompson's suspicions, and he called her a few days after their meeting to give her the news. He also said, "There's someone I want you to meet. She's been in your shoes." That someone was breast health navigator Meg Shrader, R.N., B.S.N. A breast cancer survivor herself, Shrader helps Augusta Health patients work through an overwhelming number of cancer resources and coordinates care among the physicians who treat the disease.

"It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship on a not-so-beautiful journey," Bazan says.

Facing Down Cancer

Bazan would undergo additional testing, including an MRI, a second biopsy and a diagnostic mammogram, to confirm her diagnosis and help physicians determine exactly what they were dealing with. Her cancer was stage I, grade 3—an aggressive form of cancer that was caught early on.

As she began to come to grips with what she was facing, she often turned to Shrader. "I can't begin to describe the impact that Meg has had," she says. "It was amazing to have someone to talk with, someone who's been where I was headed. She could relate to everything I was telling her." The two women discussed treatment options, as well as physical and emotional issues surrounding breast cancer.

Because testing revealed that Bazan was at high risk for a recurrence of breast cancer, chemotherapy became part of her treatment plan. After a lumpectomy in November 2009, she began the first of four rounds of chemo in December of that year. Her first chemotherapy treatment was given in a private room at the hospital's infusion center to help her adjust to the new treatment. Subsequent treatments were given in an area alongside other patients. "I met so many wonderful people there," she says.

In preparation for the likelihood of losing her hair, she had her hairdresser cut her long locks into a short style. "I cried like a baby when she cut my hair off ," she says. In January 2010, her hair started to fall out. That's when she shaved her head and covered it with hats. "It was hard," admits Bazan. "Society looks at women based on their hair, makeup and breasts. I felt that everything that made me a woman was being attacked."

Six weeks of radiation followed the chemotherapy, with treatment officially wrapping up on April 30, 2010. Bazan was amazed at how supportive everyone at Augusta Health was. That included her medical oncologist, Maya Ghaemmaghami, M.D.—"I felt like she never had another patient; she always took the time with me"—and her surgeon, Dr. Thompson—"so caring and humble"—and the oncology nurses, who would stop and pray with her. And, of course, Shrader. "My healthcare providers treated not only the body, but the spirit as well," Bazan says, noting that the Augusta Health Cancer Center staff also provided support to her husband, John, and family.

A New Lease On Life

Now cancer-free, Bazan is currently enrolled in a three-year clinical trial. It aims to fi nd out if taking bone-building medications can reduce the risk of cancer spreading to the bones, a common site of recurrence in breast-cancer patients. She says the study is helping her do her part to help other women.

Some women might question why breast cancer had to happen to them, but it's something that never crossed Bazan's mind. "Why not me?" she says. "I'm being led down this path for a reason." She says the experience has given her a new lease on life. She fell in love all over again with her husband, who's stood by her throughout this difficult journey. She notices things she may not have before, such as birds singing during a rainstorm. She's curbed the hours she puts in at her job as a supervisor in the health information department at a local psychiatric center.

"This experience changes your perspective," Bazan says. "Things that I thought were important before I realize aren't.

"I'm not the person I was before, and I hope I never will be."

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Getting Genetic Testing

If you have a strong family history of breast cancer and are at high risk for the disease, ask your physician about getting tested for genetic mutations that increase breast cancer risk as well as other steps to consider, such as preventive mastectomy or drug therapy with tamoxifen, raloxifene or aromatase inhibitors.

Breast Cancer Symptoms

The following are warning signs of breast cancer. See your physician if you experience any of these symptoms, but keep in mind that most breast lumps are not cancerous.

Most common
  • a painless lump or mass in or near the breast
Less Common
  • a change in breast size or firmness
  • breast skin changes such as dimpling, a sore or a rash
  • nipple itching, burning, rash, turning inward or discharge
  • a warm area in the breast
Rare
  • pain in the breast
  • swelling under the armpit or of the arm
  • bone pain