On May 28, 2021, Sara Baker came to Quincy Medical Group (QMG) for a follow-up mammogram. She looked at the visit as routine until she got some unexpected news.
After her mammogram, she had an ultrasound. When the radiologist came in to share the results, he told her she would need a biopsy. The results indicated she had aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma.
“I didn’t know yet exactly what he meant, but the words ‘aggressive’ and ‘invasive’ were daunting. Shocked, upset, scared & shaking, I said to Mary Jeffries, the ultrasonographer, ‘I think he just told me I have breast cancer.’”
Jeffries helped calm her and got her biopsy scheduled and walked her out to the waiting room.
“I don’t remember driving home that day,” Baker said.
On June 3, 2021, her husband, Deon, came with her to her biopsy appointment where she met with QMG Radiologist Dr. Debra Oden. Nervous, Baker felt comforted immediately.
“Thankfully, the familiar & friendly face of Mary Jeffries greeted me again as she was assisting Dr. Oden with the biopsy,” Baker recalled. “For whatever reason, I was terrified to have this procedure but when it was all said and done, it was the simplest of procedures. Mary and Dr. Oden laughed and chatted with me the whole time to keep my thoughts otherwise engaged.”
Later that week, Baker’s diagnosis was confirmed – Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Stage 1, Grade 2. The next day, she saw QMG Surgeon Dr. Christian Zwick to review the finding and to schedule a lumpectomy.
“Dr. Zwick covered what he would be doing during the surgery. Deon and I asked a ton of questions which he patiently and thoroughly answered. Weeks later, when I found out I had to do chemotherapy, Dr. Zwick also put my port in. I was relieved he does port procedures b/c in my opinion; Dr. Zwick encompasses everything you look for in a doctor. He’s competent, confident & compassionate. We knew I was in good hands. I had zero concerns about either procedure which is a big statement.” she said.
Sara’s lumpectomy was scheduled for the morning of June 22, 2021. She was home by early afternoon.
“Dr. Zwick called a couple hours after I’d gotten home to let me know that the margins around the mass were clear of cancer cells and that I did not have any lymph node involvement. We were elated with this news & appreciative he took the time to reach out so quickly,” she shared. “Recovery from this procedure was surprisingly unpainful. I only needed medication for comfort the day of the surgery and that was all.”
Her next step was to meet with the Oncology team at the QMG Cancer Institute where she with QMG Radiation Oncologist Dr. Michael Fallon and QMG Oncologist Dr. M. Amjad Ali.
“Deon and I met with Dr. Fallon. What a cool guy. I think our initial consult was to be 30 minutes, but he was with us well over an hour covering the process of radiation treatment & what to expect. He ‘dumbed down’ the medical jargon so we could easily understand everything. He was kind, patient, and thorough,” she said.
Later that day, Sara and Deon met with Dr. Ali who shared with them a detailed explanation of options and recommendations.
“When we left Dr. Ali’s office that day, we were overwhelmed, but appreciative of his in-depth explanation. The treatment plan was starting to come together.”
Prior to treatment, Dr. Ali wanted Sara to do genetic testing to see if chemotherapy would be the best treatment option.
As they waited for the results, Sara and Deon prayed the results would indicate that she would not need chemotherapy.
“We weren’t that lucky,” Sara said. “Chemotherapy was recommended & we were devastated. Still, though, we knew and were told that I didn’t absolutely have to do chemotherapy, I could refuse. We knew the chances of the cancer returning were significantly lowered just by having the lumpectomy, radiation, and hormone therapy. I decided not to undergo chemotherapy.”
Sara questioned her decision. The thought of chemotherapy scared her, but she didn’t want fear to stop her from making the best long-term decision. She spoke with QMG Oncology Navigation Coordinator Holly Meyer about her fears and talked through all the “what ifs.”
“Ultimately, Holly asked if I would live in fear of the cancer returning if I did not do chemotherapy or if I would rest easy with the decision to not take chemo. Clearly, already worrying about my decision, I knew the answer to that.”
After addressing her concerns, Meyer gave Sara a tour of the infusion room.
“By the time I left, my anxiety level had dropped, and I was at peace with the decision to include chemotherapy as part of my journey,” she said.
Her first chemotherapy treatment was on August 11, 2021.
“Deon and I were shocked at how absurdly upbeat the infusion center is. The nurses there cultivate a culture of positivity which completely contradicts what we’d anticipated. My mom has also taken me to a treatment and agrees aura there is enjoyably optimistic. We all know that nursing takes a special person but being in a cancer center and being able to turn it into a positive atmosphere, that’s mind-blowing. No doom or gloom here.”
Reflecting on her cancer journey so far, Sara said the hardest part has been telling her family, especially her parents, about her diagnosis.
“When this all started, we were in a season of celebrations. Our son was graduating high school. Our daughter & son-in-law were expecting their first baby. Deon and I were giddy about being first-time grandparents. Everybody was just so happy, and I had this dark hovering cloud. Having to share my diagnosis was tough,” she recalled.
Through the difficult times these past few months, Sara said she knows she is one of the lucky ones, and her spirits have been lifted by the team at the QMG Cancer Institute.
“To me, these people are important in my journey. Their kindness has left an impression on me that I’ll always remember. They are professionals who do this every day but I’m a real-life person who is dealing with this,” Sara said. “Their kindness makes it easier. They’ve just been across the board awesomeness. From the hello at the front door I get from Michelle at the reception desk, who greets me by name before I even get up to the desk, to Marsha, the rock star phlebotomist, who puts warm water in gloves to help coax my stubborn veins into popping up. I mean, I just cannot say enough about the care I’ve received.”
For others who may have delayed their wellness appointment or mammograms, her advice is to make and keep those appointments.
“Your providers can’t force you to come, you’re the only person who can keep yourself accountable. Women, please get screened. I have been blown away by the number of women I’ve talked to who have never had a mammogram. Had that been me, it would have only been a matter of time until I’d have been knocking on death’s door. As dramatic as that sounds, it’s the truth. Please advocate for your health.”