Lessons gained during a breast cancer journey

By The Health News Team | October 4, 2022
Afarin (Alfie) Fullen, dietitian at Sharp Mesa Vista

Afarin (Alfie) Fullen, a dietitian at Sharp Mesa Vista, says sharing her breast cancer story has been helpful to her healing.

Afarin Fullen, fondly known as Alfie, diligently received a mammogram every year. Familiar with the process, she thought her March exam would go as usual. But the results showed a suspicious sign. So she underwent an ultrasound, after which the radiologist told her she likely had invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer.

“You always remember where you are when you receive news like this,” says Fullen, 61. “I was in my car and didn’t feel scared.”

Rather than feeling frightened, Fullen was overwhelmed by what her breast cancer journey would possibly entail.

A journey toward health
With invasive ductal carcinoma, cancer begins in the milk duct lining and spreads to the surrounding breast tissue. After a biopsy confirmed Fullen’s diagnosis, Dr. Mohan Krishnamoorthy, a Sharp Rees Stealy Medical Group surgeon affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital, performed a lumpectomy in June to remove the 2-centimeter lump.

“As a patient, Alfie was pleasant, calm and insightful,” Dr. Krishnamoorthy says. “Being in health care, she understood the processes in place for breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

Fullen, a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, has worked for Sharp HealthCare for over a decade. Her role includes assessing behavioral health patients for malnutrition and assisting them with their diet as they receive treatment.

“My work helped save me,” she says. “I shared my diagnosis with my coworkers and patients, and so many of them were empathetic. Their thoughtfulness meant a lot to me.”

In July, Fullen began the first of 12 chemotherapy sessions at the Kevin H. Cook Infusion Center at Sharp Memorial. She currently receives treatment under the care of Sharp Rees-Stealy oncologist Dr. Eliana Kozin. Once finished, Fullen will start her radiation therapy with the help of Dr. Sunanda Pejavar, a Sharp Rees Stealy and Sharp Community Medical Group radiation oncologist affiliated with Sharp Memorial.

Support goes both ways
As a health care professional, Fullen was used to helping her patients, but her role became reversed as her patients comforted her. “I was touched when my patients — some of them at the darkest times of their life — said they prayed for me and wrote me cards,” says Fullen. “I’m thankful for them and my supportive colleagues.”

Fullen also credits her family and her Sharp care team, including Terri Wyatt, RN, BSN, her oncology patient navigator, for supporting her. Wyatt sees Fullen weekly at the infusion center and provides help by reviewing possible side effects from chemotherapy, offering resources for wigs, and checking in with Fullen for her physical and mental health.

“She has had a great attitude this entire time, maintaining a positive outlook,” says Wyatt. “She’s very open about what she is going through and is engaged with her treatment process.”

Fullen also says that sharing her story has been helpful. She’s connected with others, including friends she didn’t know also had breast cancer. Now, she offers others strength and hope with her own story.

“For anyone going through a similar situation, I’d like to say allow yourself to be frustrated, sad, anxious and fearful,” Fullen says. “You can acknowledge and honor these feelings, but ultimately, focus on the positives and daily progress you make. Remember, it’s OK not to be OK.”

Learn more about breast cancer treatment at Sharp HealthCare; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News.

For the news media: To talk to Dr. Mohan Krishnamoorthy, Dr. Eliana Kozin or Dr. Sunanda Pejavar about this story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.


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