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Not Every Breast Cancer Patient Has Risk Factors

Even the best possible health history, lifestyle, and preventive medicine can't protect you from breast cancer.

Breast Cancer
Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe

Even the best possible health history, lifestyle, and preventive medicine can't protect you from breast cancer. Susan Warner knows this first-hand. With three physicians in her family, staying healthy has always been a top priority for Susan Warner, 58, of West Des Moines.

“For 56 years, I truly had been in perfect health. I always took care of myself and got regular checkups. I had no family history (of breast cancer) and was very conscientious about getting my regular screenings,” she says. One day as she was dressing to leave on a business trip, she looked in the mirror. “I realized I had a problem in my left breast,” she says.

Due for her annual mammogram, she went in to The Iowa Clinic and, on April 2, 2012, learned that she had breast cancer.“Within two days I was sitting in Dr. Scott Hamling's office,” she recalls of her appointment at The Iowa Clinic. “More tests and biopsies were immediately scheduled and he outlined next steps.” Hamling included Edra Fouts, RN, OCN, CBCN (care coordinator at John Stoddard Cancer Center) in a later meeting. “Edra provided an added level of special care for hope and encouragement,” Warner adds.

As with all breast cancer cases handled by The Iowa Clinic, a multidisciplinary team of breast cancer specialists met to review Warner's case and determine the best treatment course. Because of the size of the lump approximately 4 cm), shrinking the tumor before surgically removing it was necessary to assure Warner of the best possible outcome. That required over four months of chemotherapy. “It's a little daunting when you think this tumor is going to stay in you for months. This was the first part of April, and I wasn't expected to have surgery until October,” Warner recalls. But the high level of communication and personalized care gave her comfort.“(The Iowa Clinic) has got this down to a perfect process. There are many, many eyes looking at your care and progression of treatment,” she says.

The chemotherapy did what it was supposed to do. The tumor shrunk. Then Warner had a decision to make: “Do you remove one breast or both? After talking with both Dr. Hamling and Dr. Matt Hill (an oncologist with John Stoddard Cancer Center), I decided to remove both for two reasons — I didn't want to worry about breast cancer again and reconstruction of two breasts would present a symmetrical result.”

On October 5, 2012, Warner had surgery. Six weeks of daily radiation followed. And in April 2013, Warner began reconstruction surgery with Konstantinos Lekkas, M.D., a Plastic Surgeon with The Iowa Clinic. “Dr. Lekkas is highly specialized in DIEP Breast econstruction, a surgery that moved two arteries and tissue from my lower abdomen to create new breasts. The surgery took 10 and a half hours. His objective was to get that tissue to live as what would appear to be breasts, and then later refine and shape them. I'm very happy with the end result,” she says.

A critically important component is support from family and friends. Warner credits an aspect of her survival to having the best of both worlds. Fiancé David Nasternak attended every medical and chemotherapy appointment. “David lovingly cared for me and we did our best to maintain a normal life without too much disruption. We're optimistic, and have a wedding date and a new six-month-old puppy. We're filled with happiness,” she says.Warner, who followed her doctors' instructions to the letter, says, “We feel very fortunate and thank The Iowa Clinic and John Stoddard Cancer Center for a survival outcome.”

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