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With no family living nearby, Tina Hamilton said going through seven surgeries and procedures, stemming from a breast cancer diagnosis last November, was bearable because of the “family of experts” at Swedish Medical Center.
“Their care and support has been extremely important,” Hamilton said. “I have this family of brilliant people who surround me and tell me what they are going to do to kick cancer’s butt. My doctors have big hearts, and since I’ve gone through seven different procedures, I’m kind of a regular. They definitely know me there.”
Breast and general surgeon, Dr. Laura Hafertepen, at SurgOne in Englewood, has been with Hamilton since her treatment started. Hafertepen said there’s a reason Hamilton feels like a member of a family.
“It’s because we are a family,” she said. “We understand that every patient is unique and that individualized care is one of the most important services we can provide. When it comes to treating our breast cancer patients, all the doctors are in constant contact by email and phone, and we meet in person once a week. We discuss patient options and we understand what they are going through.”
Hamilton, 47, said she had scheduled her regular mammogram and annual exam for December last year, but a month earlier felt something that caused some alarm. She explained that during a self-exam she noticed a lump. Getting in to see her doctor sooner, Hamilton said she was quickly diagnosed with breast cancer.
When it came time to seek treatment, Hamilton said she knew Swedish Medical Center was the way to go because they were highly recommended by the medical professionals she worked with while teaching CPR classes.
“Every health professional that I have dealt with over the years said they have never had a bad experience there,” Hamilton said. “When it was time for me to get this important treatment, I knew Swedish is where I had to go.”
Hamilton said she’s never regretted the decision for a second, especially considering her course of treatment over the past year. With one breast being diagnosed with breast cancer, and given that she carried the BRCA gene, a bi-lateral, or radical mastectomy, was what Hamilton decided to do.
By testing positive for the BRCA gene, the chances of getting re-diagnosed with breast cancer again through a single mastectomy or a lumpectomy is around 60 to 70 percent. A bi-lateral mastectomy decreases the chance of re-diagnosis tremendously, reducing the risk to about 10 percent.
Hafertepen said the decision between a lumpectomy, which just removes the cancerous lump, and a mastectomy which removes the whole breast, is an especially personal one for women. It’s even more personal when you are deciding to do a double mastectomy.
“There is no cookie cutter approach in treating breast cancer,” Hafertepen said. “In Tina’s case, she has several issues and concerns, but I think she made the decision that was right for her case.”
Just over a month after the official diagnosis, Hamilton went through a double mastectomy. However, she had no idea what would happen next. Besides going through three months of chemo and seven rounds of radiation, Hamilton had other complications come up.
Hamilton said not long after the surgery, it was discovered that she had blood clots.
Plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr. Lily Daniali, of the Burn and Reconstructive Centers of Colorado, is in charge of Hamilton’s reconstruction process. Daniali said it’s through knowing Hamilton’s case and working directly with her team of doctors that they were able to pin point the cause of the blood clot. It turned out Hamilton had May-Thurner syndrome (MTS), a rare condition that can cause discomfort, swelling, pain or blood clots, called deep venous thrombosis.
After the diagnosis of May-Thurner syndrome, which explained why she also had clotting when she was pregnant years before, Hamilton underwent a radical hysterectomy.
Daniali said over the last year, the breast cancer team at Swedish Medical has focused on treating Hamilton’s breast cancer and getting her healthy. Moving forward, Hamilton and her doctors will be able to focus on the process of breast reconstruction.
When it comes to reconstruction, it is a lengthy process that requires three steps, Daniali said. Those three steps include the following:
1. Never compromising treatment. Dealing with, treating and eliminating the breast cancer has to take place before reconstruction is considered.
2. Avoid any complications. With breast cancer being such a personal ordeal, Daniali said it’s important to plan, strategize and do whatever it takes to minimize and avoid any chance of complications. For Hamilton, unforeseen complications came up early, but Daniali said that will help her in planning how to move forward with final reconstructive surgery.
3. Finish the reconstruction process that will allow her to feel good about her body as an end result.
While going through treatment, Daniali said she took steps to assure that reconstruction will go smoothly by inserting expanders after Hamilton’s mastectomy. Expanders are a common breast reconstruction technique, which involves expansion of the breast skin and muscle using a temporary tissue expander that serves as a place holder until reconstructive surgery.
Now that the cancer treatment is finished, Daniali said she is giving Hamilton time to recover from the radiation. Hamilton’s process to go through full reconstruction can take between four and six months, but through a proactive approach in what became a tough year, Daniali said Hamilton’s positive outlook and struggles will pay off.
“I can’t say enough about how caring all of my doctors have been,” Hamilton said. “As the process continues, I’ve known every step of the way what to expect, I’ve known the risks, I’ve known what I am going to go through. Dr. Daniali is a true artist and I know I am in good hands going forward.”
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