So when Christine was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after moving to the United States, she began a journey that would depend on the support of her family like never before.
It started when Christine noticed a tiny amount of pain – a pulling sensation – under her arm. Erring on the side of caution, Christine decided to have it checked out right away, and an initial exam found a hard lump. Christine was sent to the Rose Breast Center for a mammogram and to meet with Ingrid Van Den Abbeele, the Rose breast nurse navigator.
Though the mammogram detected the lump, Rose Breast Center medical director Dr. John Lewin decided they needed to perform another exam.
After Dr. Lewin began the biopsy, he spent an hour-and-a-half trying to get a good tissue sample as there were so many areas to examine. Christine even remembers needing a second dose of numbing medication.
Three days later, Dr. Lewin called to explain that they had found cancer in the tissue sample. Within three days, Christine was sent to get an MRI and was scheduled for an appointment immediately after with Rose breast surgeon Dr. Barbara Schwartzberg.
When they met, Christine recalls Dr. Schwartzberg saying that they had been talking about her all morning.
“I thought, ‘Oh, because I’m a foreigner?’” says Christine. After discussing the details of her cancer, Christine realized what the medical team had been talking about that morning. “It was like an unfolding nightmare, in slow motion. And I understood then, it wasn’t about me being a foreigner—they had discussed what to do.”
Christine’s cancer was unusual in that it was like a web—and everywhere. Dr. Schwartzberg explained that in years of breast cancer work, Christine was her seventh patient with this type of cancer.
“They said it’s a scary, insidious cancer,” Christine says.
When they sent her to get a bone scan, Christine and her family finally welcomed some good news. Her bones and organs were clean and free of the disease. She was told that at the size that her cancer was, it’s a miracle that it couldn’t find another organ to settle down in.
Within 10 days, Christine had a mastectomy. During surgery, it was discovered that Christine’s cancer had spread to her lymph nodes as well, so Dr. Schwartzberg removed the affected nodes. Despite this, Christine recovered quickly and felt good within two weeks of the operation. After the healing process, they started chemotherapy right away with Rose oncologist Dr. Dev Paul.
At the same time, Dr. Schwartzberg began to coordinate with Rose reconstructive surgeon Dr. Philippe Capraro.
“Dr. Schwartzberg…. I felt like she was like a conductor in an orchestra,” says Christine. “Dr. Schwartzberg is, for me, a bright, strong, positive, energetic person who is dedicated to what she does, and she wants to do it to perfection.”
During Christine’s treatment, another complication arose. Because of her visa, she had to leave the United States after her chemotherapy. She had radiation therapy in Germany, and eventually returned to the United States to have a second mastectomy due to the risk of developing breast cancer in her other breast. She continues to work with the team at Rose, including Dr. Capraro who is helping to coordinate her reconstructive surgery.
For Christine, her support group has been an essential asset to her treatment. Between her medical team and—of course—her family, Christine has endured and grown stronger with time. She reminds others who are experiencing similar hardships to stay positive.
“One of my biggest lessons was, you have once in a while to be lucky,” she says.
The Rose “Surviving Well” calendar is a 12-month calendar highlighting our cancer services, physicians and inspirational stories from our patients. Christine is our survivor for February.