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Strength in the face of breast cancer

By The Health News Team | November 4, 2021
Sharp Memorial Hospital patient Erin Payne

“As scary as even hearing the word ‘cancer’ can be, as I’m continuing to receive treatment for it, I learned that you can get better and be in remission,” says Erin.

Erin Payne was used to getting annual mammograms. Since several of her aunts and friends had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she had been diligent about receiving her screenings. In June, she expected her annual mammogram would have no issues. But the exam detected invasive ductal carcinoma.

“I couldn’t believe it — I was in disbelief,” says Erin, 49. “I had no symptoms at all, such as a lump, discharge or any skin changes.”

Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer. Cancer begins growing in the milk ducts and spreads to the surrounding breast tissues. With her family and personal medical history in mind, Erin decided to get a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction after consulting with her Sharp care team.

During the mastectomy, Dr. Mohan Krishnamoorthy, a general surgeon affiliated with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group and Sharp Memorial Hospital, discovered the cancer had spread to a few lymph nodes. To lower the likelihood of the cancer returning, Erin worked with her doctors to identify an appropriate treatment plan, which will ultimately include chemotherapy, radiation and hormone therapies.

“Erin’s story emphasizes the importance of getting routine mammograms, which is how her breast cancer was detected,” says Dr. Krishnamoorthy. “Throughout her diagnosis and treatment, I’ve found Erin to have a positive disposition and attitude.”

Finding support at home and at Sharp
During this time, Erin has leaned on her friends for support — some of whom she comforted during their own treatment for breast cancer — her two sisters and her two sons, ages 17 and 23. She also thanks her Sharp care team for guiding her through treatment and recovery, including Dr. Krishnamoorthy, oncologist Dr. Andrew Hampshire and radiation oncologist Dr. Sunanda Pejavar.

“My Sharp team is absolutely phenomenal,” says Erin. “If I need something, there’s always someone to reach out to. I could call any of my doctors and be assured they’d reply to my questions.”

Erin especially credits Jenn Bartko, clinical case manager and breast cancer navigator at Sharp Memorial. Bartko helps cancer patients navigate through treatment and recovery by providing educational and emotional support. Before starting chemotherapy, for example, Erin decided to cut her hair short. Bartko recommended a great hairstylist who works with patients with cancer.

Erin will complete her breast reconstruction surgery over the next few months and has joked about being excited to have implants.

“Erin’s ability to find humor in difficult situations is unparalleled,” says Bartko. “At the same time, it’s been important for me to recognize when her humor is a cloak for her fears and to help identify her real concerns so I can better support her. I truly admire her resilience, and it’s been an absolute honor so far to walk this journey with her.”

Erin is looking forward to completing treatment, which will include chemotherapy, five weeks of radiation, hormone therapy and the final stages of the breast reconstruction process.

“As scary as even hearing the word ‘cancer’ can be, as I’m continuing to receive treatment for it, I learned that you can get better and be in remission,” she says. “I’m going to keep doing Sunday dinner with my sons and enjoying doing odd jobs around the house, going on walks and being with my dog. I’m not going to be afraid to keep living my life.”

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