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A doctor’s journey navigating breast cancer

By The Health News Team | June 30, 2023
A doctors journey navigating her breast cancer HN3402 Cover Sized

Dr. Anna Techentin, a family medicine doctor at Sharp Rees-Stealy, thanks her Sharp care team for helping her throughout her breast cancer journey.

Last year, Dr. Anna Techentin, a Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group family medicine doctor, began to experience occasional tenderness in her right breast over a six-month period. Her primary care doctor, Dr. Zena White, who is also with Sharp Rees-Stealy, performed a physical exam but did not discover anything.

Still, Dr. White ordered a diagnostic mammogram, which included an ultrasound. The exam provided several images of both breasts. Concerned, Dr. Marnie Jo Kramer Prill, a Sharp Rees-Stealy radiologist, took additional images.

“The reality set in that this likely was the beginning of my breast cancer story,” says Dr. Techentin.

She was right: The mammogram detected a lesion (abnormal tissue) larger than the size of a marble. Dr. Prill performed a biopsy and several days later, Dr. Techentin received an MRI.

Hundreds of thoughts filled Dr. Techentin's mind: How long can I continue to work? How soon can I begin my treatment? Will I survive?

Her worries gradually eased a week later when she saw Dr. Noran Barry, a Sharp Rees-Stealy breast surgeon affiliated with Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, for a breast cancer consultation on her diagnosis — invasive ductal carcinoma. This type of breast cancer is the most common and affects the milk ducts and breast tissue.

“I have explained breast cancer to my patients before,” says Dr. Techentin. “But now, being a breast cancer patient myself, I appreciate the process even more.”

The journey to good health begins

In early February, Dr. Techentin had multiple surgeries on the same day. Dr. Barry performed a bilateral nipple sparing mastectomy, which removes all the breast tissue, by making an incision at the inframammary fold (the lower boundary of the breast). She also performed reverse lymphatic mapping to spare the lymph nodes that drain the arm and a sentinel lymph node biopsy, performed to find the first lymph node the cancer may spread to. For this, Dr. Barry made an incision right below Dr. Techentin's right armpit. Thankfully, the cancer had not spread to the lymph nodes.

Shortly after, Dr. Alfonso Camberos, a Sharp Rees-Stealy plastic surgeon, performed a tissue expansion surgery at Sharp Mary Birch to prepare the breasts for future reconstruction. Dr. Techentin stayed for two nights in the hospital, which offers various surgical options for breast cancer and a special area — the only such unit in San Diego — dedicated solely to women recovering from surgical procedures.

“My final memory before waking up in recovery was Dr. Barry giving me a wink before my surgery,” Dr. Techentin says.

Continued care for overall wellness

Although the kind of breast cancer that Dr. Techentin had is relatively slow in progressing, it has estrogen and progesterone receptors — meaning either of these hormones can stimulate cancer growth. Therefore, in April, Dr. Techentin received a robotic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy from Dr. Lisa Johnston, a Sharp Rees-Stealy OB-GYN and the co-medical director of Sharp Mary Birch. The outpatient procedure removes both ovaries and both fallopian tubes.

Currently, Dr. Techentin sees Dr. Ann Moeller, a Sharp Rees-Stealy oncologist affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital, for endocrine therapy. This treatment involves taking medication to block estrogen in breast cancer cells.

“Having breast cancer is humbling, and I know at Sharp I’m getting the best care,” says Dr. Techentin.

Dr. Barry continues to follow her case, and Dr. Techentin works with Dr. Camberos to navigate breast reconstruction surgery. She credits him for connecting her to occupational therapy to help relieve the pain throughout her chest wall, armpit and forearm since undergoing a lymphoscintigraphy, which is used to check the lymph system for disease.

“She is incredibly positive and resilient – I can see why her patients adore her,” Dr. Barry says. “It has been inspiring for me to treat her.”

Dr. Techentin has since worked with the Cancer Centers of Sharp HealthCare to join a support group; take various classes on cancer; and participate in integrative and complementary therapy, such as meditation.

“I am grateful for my entire Sharp care team, including my doctors, technicians, schedulers and nurses who’ve aided me throughout my treatment,” she says. “Also, I want to remind women to regularly get mammograms, as now it’s advised to get them from age 40.”

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