Menorah Medical Center
October 22, 2012

by Linda Friedel | Reprinted courtesy of KC Nursing News

Bret MillerPatients and former patients gathered in an atrium decked out in pink. They were handed pink cookies, pink drinks, pink bags and pink balloons.

“It sounded fun,” Lisa Sopko said.

Sopko and her husband joined scores of other women and their families at Menorah Medical Center’s annual Pink Party. A breast cancer survivor, Sopko said she wanted a chance to meet with other women who had been through her experience.

“I’m the only one who’s ever had breast cancer in my family,” she said.

Menorah’s Pink Party offered women a time to relax and time to learn. On hand were services such as walk-in screening mammograms, free bra fittings, manicures, massages, cancer support groups, a buffet of appetizers and program speakers. It was an afternoon for pampering and a day to connect.

“(It is) the camaraderie for hospital personnel,” said Twila Crow, a breast cancer survivor. “Meeting other survivors, sharing the event with other families.”

Crow is a technician at Menorah and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. This year her daughter-in-law attended the event in support of Crow.

“I work here,” Crow said. “I always come out for the event. It’s got new meaning now.”

Women of all generations attended the event, including grade-school Girl Scouts and elderly patients.

“This is my frst cancer awareness activity,” said Kelly Reno, RN, chief nursing offcer at Menorah Medical Center. “I’m very impressed. I appreciate the community feedback.”

Reno said the more than decade-long tradition is a result of survivors’ feedback. She noticed young Girl Scouts mingling in the crowd, saying it is never to early to learn about detection, prevention and wellness.

“We’ve got a whole array of ages of representation of the community,” she said. “They’re here and they’re proud.”

Debbie Gardner, an RN in the Cancer Center stayed close to a display where she answered questions and met with attendees. Gardner provides patient education in the Cancer Center and said it is one of the busiest cancer sites in the community. Some of her former patients are so attached they travel from their retirement homes in Arizona for mammograms at the Center, she said.

“It’s because our staff is so highly skilled,” she said. “They’re just very, very talented, nurturing and compassionate.”

Gardner has been at the Cancer Center for nine years. Her background prior to oncology was in obstetrics and gynecology, skills she said translated to oncology.

“I love working with women,” she said. “I still get to teach. I still get to work with women.”

Gardner’s family attended the gathering in honor of her mother, a 33-year breast cancer survivor. Gardner said she is passionate about working in breast cancer, inspired by her mother. Holding an annual event in honor of survivors informs the community of the holistic care involved with breast cancer, she said. It lets the community know how the cancer program is vested in patients emotionally, socially and educationally in addition to the tests and procedures, she said.

“We want people to know we do the whole package,” Gardner said. “We’ve got tremendous resources.” Several local breast cancer survivors spoke out on early detection. Bret Miller, 26, and Tina Herald, 40, were selected as two of 11 of Ford’s Models for Courage, a national campaign for breast cancer awareness. Miller is one of the youngest men in the country to have been diagnosed with breast cancer, and Herald represented a younger population of women. Both shared their stories at the podium and were on hand to educate the public.

“You are your own best doctor,” Miller said. “If you think something is wrong, go to the doctor.

Miller found a lump in his breast when he was 17 years old, but was told by his physician to keep an eye on it. He did. The lump eventually caused pain and oozed a yellow discharge. During a routine physical at 24 years old, he told his physician about the symptoms. An ultrasound and scans revealed the lump was cancerous. Since his mastectomy and treat- ment, Miller launched the Bret Miller 1T Foundation.

“Letting men know it’s possible, that breast cancer is possible in men,” Miller said.

Herald said she answered the call for Ford’s campaign because she wanted a bigger platform to share her story. She wants people to know that a breast cancer diagnosis includes tissue above the breast and women under 40 years old. Herald was 34 years old when she noticed a pea-sized bump located an inch above her breast.

“Doctors don’t check up that high,” she said.

It took Herald going to three physicians before she could get one to agree to a mammogram, she said. The mammogram was negative, but she pressed for more testing.

“They really thought I was crazy because the mammogram was negative,” Herald said. “I thought with every bit of my being that something was wrong. It just didn’t feel right to me.”

Herald refused to leave the doctor’s appointment without further testing and pushed for a sonogram that revealed a dark mass, she said. Mammograms account for a detection 80 percent of the time, and Harold fell into the spare 20 percent, she said.

“There isn’t quite as much education out there,” Herald said. “You know your body. I knew something was wrong.”

Herald said lumps can appear all the way up to the collar bone, into the arm pit and an inch below the breast. The lump she located above her breast was hard and did not move, she said. Herald has no history of breast cancer in her family and said that 85 percent of breast cancer patients do not. With early detection when breast cancer is diagnosed at stage one or stage two, 90 percent of the patients survive, she said.

“I was in stage two,” Herald said. “It was in my lymph nodes.”

Herald was a mother of a 3-year- old and 5-year-old at the time of her diagnosis. She opted for the most aggressive treatment that included a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, shots and daily medicine for the subsequent five years.

“I’m alive,” Herald said. “I want to raise my kids.”

After her treatment, Herald decided to wear a wig every day for the rest of her life. She said she got so many compliments on her wigs, she decided to make it a lifestyle. She launched Wigged Out four years ago to serve women undergoing chemotherapy. Herald says she shares her story with clients to let them know she understands their disease.

“To be a face of breast cancer,” she said. “You are not alone. It’s a very lonely disease in the beginning. I felt like I was broken. I’m a proud survivor.”

Herald says she has the wisdom of an older woman now. Cancer has changed her life, she said.

“My passion is to give back and really do something to make a difference,” she said.

Photo by Linda Friedel/Nursing News Photo