Cancer Care

Breast Cancer Survivor’s Tale of ‘Consistent, Compassionate Care’ — Even During COVID-19

Posted on Jul 23, 2020 in Cancer Care, Scroll Images

ELK GROVE, Calif. – Pamela Randall’s breast cancer journey began with her diagnosis in June 2018.

Pamela Randall

Her physician—Joyce Eaker, M.D., who recently retired from Sutter Medical Group—called her after the cancer removal surgery with the pathology report. That’s when Randall, a global workforce consultant who lives in Elk Grove, Calif., learned the road ahead would be difficult, including a double mastectomy, 10 rounds of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation.

“It was like she was talking to a family member,” Randall says. “What she told me was, ‘I didn’t want anyone else to call you with this news.’ I’d never heard of a doctor with that kind of commitment. She was someone to lean on, someone who was reassuring and kind.”

Mastectomy & Treatment

To help manage her appointments and clinician communications, Randall relied on My Health Online, Sutter’s online patient portal, and the medical staff who cared for her. Dr. Eaker performed her double mastectomy, while Lynne Hackert, M.D., performed the first step in her breast reconstruction, placing the tissue expanders at the time of her mastectomy.

At Sutter Cancer Center, Randall’s Sutter Medical Group oncologist, Nitin Rohatgi, M.D., “was reassuring, clear, comforting, direct and knowledgeable,” she says.

For Randall, the hardest part of the journey was undergoing daily radiation, five days a week for five weeks. But she says her Sutter Medical Foundation radiation oncologist, Carlin Hauck, M.D., understood the emotional strain and connected her with Sutter’s integrative health specialists, who taught her meditation and breathing techniques to use before every treatment.

Randall’s radiation treatments ended in May 2019. She had to wait a year before reconstructive surgery due to tissue damage caused by the radiation.

Reconstructive Surgery During COVID-19

Seeking medical treatment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic meant taking extra steps to continue her care.

She met by video visit with her California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) reconstructive surgeon, Gabriel Kind, M.D., who would perform her DIEP flap procedure. In a DIEP flap procedure, tissues and blood vessels are taken from the abdomen to repair areas of the breast tissue that have been severely damaged.

On instruction from her CPMC team, Randall, her son and her boyfriend received COVID tests and isolated themselves before her July 6 surgery. At CPMC’s Davies campus, where Randall’s nearly 10-hour surgery was performed, staff requested that she go to pre-op alone, without her boyfriend, to minimize any possibility of exposing patients to COVID.

“They weren’t taking any chances,” Randall says. “They were keeping COVID out of their facility. That gave me the confidence to give my boyfriend a kiss and go up alone.”

After the surgery, she spent five days in the hospital recovering. Now Randall feels like she’s getting better day by day.

During her time at CPMC, she says, several nurses confided in her that they’d had the same procedure done.

“They said, ‘I was where you are. You’re doing great. You’ve got this. You’re in good hands.’

“And I was, all the way through.”

It’s Time to Get the Care You’ve Been Waiting For

Posted on Jun 18, 2020 in Cancer Care, Scroll Images

OAKLAND, CALIF. — California is slowly reopening, but like so many unknowns with COVID-19, it’s unclear how long our return to routine will last.

“A surge in virus spread and infected patients could occur this fall or winter,” says Bill Isenberg, M.D., chief quality and safety officer for Sutter Health. “If this happens, and overlaps with the normal flu season, there could be a significant strain on healthcare services.”

With this in mind, medical experts agree that if you had an appointment postponed or canceled due to COVID-19, now is the time to reschedule it.

Norma Lester-Atwood, RTRM, is a mammographer at the Carol Ann Read Breast Health Center at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, so she’s well-versed in the importance of catching breast cancer early. Lester-Atwood is typically right on schedule for her own mammogram, but this spring, shelter-in-place orders delayed her mammogram by two months. As soon as she could, she had the screening procedure and she’s glad she did, because her mammogram and a subsequent biopsy revealed a Stage 0 (non-invasive) tumor in one of her breasts. After a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, Lester-Atwood feels she is well on her way to recovery.

“As a mammographer, I’ve always told my patients that it’s important to come in every year for a mammogram because I’ve seen patients who developed fast-growing tumors between screenings,” says Lester-Atwood. “And now because of my personal experience, I’ve seen the other side of the coin and I have even more reason to encourage patients to get their regularly scheduled mammograms.”

Timing is Everything
As Lester-Atwood’s experience shows, timing is everything when it comes to staying healthy. Getting cancer screenings at the recommended intervals can help spot early signs of abnormal cell division or tumor growth before it turns into advanced cancer.

Public health department-mandated cancellation of elective procedures and many routine appointments earlier this year caused many screenings to be delayed, which may, unfortunately, have serious repercussions for some people.

Because of the importance of cancer screenings to maintaining good health, Sutter-affiliated clinicians track annual completion of mammograms, says Isenberg. “We estimate that of every 200 mammograms, one patient’s is suspicious for breast cancer and needs further attention. Because so far to date 4,000 – 5,000 people have postponed mammograms, that means approximately 20-25 cancers may have gone undiagnosed.”

The 0.5 percent detection rate for mammograms is roughly the same for colon and cervical cancer screening, says Isenberg, so similar undiagnosed cancers are likely for these diseases. “Mammograms and screenings for other cancers such as skin or prostate cancer, as well as preventative care are all important to keep on top of,” he says. “And although we often think of cancer as a disease that people get at a later stage in life, cancer can strike at any age. In fact, some hormone-sensitive cancers grow more rapidly in younger patients, so having regularly scheduled Pap test or mammograms can be lifesaving.”

“Some women don’t realize that mammograms are needed regardless of your family history, because most women with breast cancer have no family history or other identifiable risk factors,” says Harriet B. Borofsky, M.D., medical director of breast imaging with Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in San Mateo, Calif., part of the Sutter Health not-for-profit integrated network of care.

Screening for colorectal, prostate and lung cancers are also vital. “Simply put, screening saves lives,” says Borofsky. “Delayed screenings can postpone detection of cancer, which may translate into needing more intensive treatment and a more difficult path for patients.”

Taking Steps to Protect Patients and Staff
Catching up on care is one of the most important things you can do to protect your health. All Sutter imaging centers have resumed some level of cancer screening services, or are preparing to resume soon, and each has taken steps to protect patients and staff from exposure to viruses. These steps include:

Mandatory Masking – Staff, patients and visitors must wear masks at all times.
Isolation – Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms is isolated from waiting areas, patient rooms, entrances and spaces the general population uses.
Cleaning – Our teams have increased the frequency of cleaning and disinfecting in all spaces.
Screening – Everyone is screened for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 before entering our care.
Contact-Free Check-In – Skip the front desk and check in from your mobile device at some locations through Hello Patient, a new feature on My Health Online.

These protocols apply to all visits to our outpatient care centers, including scheduled office visits, radiology, lab and walk-ins to Urgent Care.

Resources to Help with Health Insurance Disruption

Health insurance coverage can be disrupted by wage or job loss, but there are options that provide access to important cancer screenings, even if you’ve lost your normal source of coverage.

In California, the Every Woman Counts program covers mammograms and cervical cancer screening for women with no or limited insurance who meet other eligibility criteria. To learn more, patients can call 1(800)-511-2300.

Other options include extending employer-based coverage through COBRA and CalCOBRA, shopping for plans and applying for premium assistance through Covered California, or applying for and qualifying for Medi-Cal. Charity care and financial assistance options may also be available. You can learn more about these options by visiting sutterhealth.org/coverage-options.

No Need to Put Off Possible Life-Saving Mammogram Any Longer

Posted on May 19, 2020 in Cancer Care, Scroll Images

ROSEVILLE, Calif. — Laurie Deuschel of Rocklin received news during the COVID-19 crisis that breast cancer runs in her family, but during the first two months of the pandemic, mammograms were considered elective scans and weren’t being performed. The first week they became available again, Deuschel got an appointment.

“I’m here to have my first mammogram, and I’m a little bit scared,” she said, but she wasn’t scared about catching the novel coronavirus while at the Sutter Imaging center in Roseville Monday, May 18.

Why? “Sutter Imaging knows the cleaning procedures and how to keep me safe,” she said.

Sutter Health is going to great lengths to protect its patients and staff in the COVID-19 era. It has created a “new normal” for its imaging centers, focused on a “safety strategy” that is incorporating guidance from the national Centers for Disease Control, California Department of Public Health and the American College of Radiology. Some of those measures include:

  • Temperature screening of all staff, doctors and patients at the door,
  • Universal masking,
  • Social distancing in waiting rooms (patients can wait in their cars if they prefer),
  • Screening patients at the time of scheduling and arrival for symptoms,
  • Deeper cleaning of equipment after every patient,
  • Regular sanitization of chairs and door handles,
  • Thorough wipe-downs of patient lockers and dressing rooms with a “Cleaned” sign placed for patients and staff to know those areas have been disinfected,
  • Regular audits or “double checks” with staff to ensure that the new procedures are being followed. 

Miyuki Murphy, M.D., the director of breast imaging for Sutter Medical Group, was interviewed for a story on the Sacramento NBC affiliate KCRA, Channel 3. Dr. Murphy explains why not delaying your mammogram is important, and the story includes video of some of the safety measures being taken at Sutter Imaging. Click here for that story on their website.

Dr. Miyuki Murphy on KCRA about the safety of mammograms at Sutter Imaging.

‘Rockin’ It: Art Helps Cancer Patient Find Healing and Purpose

Posted on Mar 17, 2020 in Cancer Care

SAN FRANCISCO – “Life is tough, but so are you.”

This powerful message is hand painted onto a smooth, palm-sized stone that rests at Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center’s Van Ness Campus kindness rock garden in San Francisco.

But it won’t be there for long.

Someone who needs it will pick it up and take it with them.

That’s the idea behind the hospital’s rock garden, located on the facility’s fifth floor terrace. Here, stones with inspiring messages and colorful scenes are on constant rotation as patients, staff and visitors are encouraged to “take one, share one, leave one.”

This simple yet meaningful concept struck a chord with Cameron Yee, a nursing student who found herself at CPMC, part of the Sutter Health not-for-profit network of care, when her cancer returned.

Cameron Yee visits CPMC Van Ness Campus hospital’s Rock Kindness Garden.

Yee was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that forms in the body’s soft tissue, at 18. She went into remission in 2016 and began feeling the cancer’s symptoms again in October 2019.

Yee was admitted to CPMC in late 2019 due to a complication from her chemotherapy and radiation. Her oncologist suggested a visit by the medical center’s expressive arts therapist, Jane Siegel.

Siegel introduced Yee to painting rocks as a form of mindfulness, self-care and an outlet to distract her from pain. It was the perfect non-medicinal prescription for Yee’s creative mind.

A “You’ve Got This” kindness rock was the first she took from CPMC’s garden.

“This rock kept me grounded and hopeful. It was one of the things that gave me strength and motivation to keep on going. I am forever grateful for the person who painted this rock,” said Yee.

Yee has taken to painting rocks like Monet took to painting watercolors. She was hooked—and more importantly, uplifted.

Yee paints concentric hearts onto a heart-shaped stone.

“Cameron is our rock star of rock art,” laughs Jane Siegel. “Art therapy is an outlet that offers true health benefits and stress relief for patients and staff alike. It’s deeply rewarding as well as healing.”

Now, months later, Yee has started an effort called ‘Rock Kindness’ to help populate CPMC’s rock garden and grow the rock kindness community at large.

Each month, Yee drops off a new series of rocks. Some of her themes have included “You’ve got this” and “Nobody fights alone.”

She has also started an Instagram page, @rock.kindness, where followers can learn about journey and see her latest designs and motivational messages.

At 21, Yee’s in her final semester of nursing school at Dominican University of California and shadowing a nursing preceptor at CPMC.

“I hope to become a pediatric nurse or specialize in something where you can see more chronic patients,” she says.

Yee keeps her “You’ve Got This” rock on her nightstand, where it serves as a reminder of a moment when the exact message she needed, was delivered to her at the exact right time.

Yee knows that no matter what curve ball life throws her way, SHE’S GOT THIS!