When Our Patients Need Cancer Care
Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is frightening and the care can be complex, debilitating and expensive. At Marin Community Clinics, we don’t provide diagnostic workups or treatment for cancer, so we work with our partners in the medical community to ensure that our patients receive the best possible – and prompt – care.
One woman’s story
San Rafael resident and Brazilian native Patricia Lopes’ journey with breast cancer began in December 2014 when she felt a lump in her breast during a self-exam. A Clinics patient for over 22 years, she immediately went to see nurse practitioner Anne Reppun, RN, NP, who ordered a mammogram at Marin General Hospital’s (MGH) Breast Health Center.
“I wasn’t scared or nervous,” reports Patricia, age 51. “I had been healthy my whole life, and a few years ago had a suspicious lump that turned out just to be a cyst. So I thought I would be just fine.”
But this time, a needle biopsy indicated that she did indeed have breast cancer. Patricia’s case was a bit unusual Some years earlier, she got silicone implants – but they needed to be removed so that the breast surgeon, Leah Kelley, MD, could access the tumor. “Ironically, the implants saved my life,” says Patricia. (It turned out that the lump she had felt was not a tumor at all, but a problem with the silicone – but if she hadn’t felt that “lump,” the cancer might not have been detected.)
The team surgery proceeded at MGH, with plastic surgeon Kashayar Mohebhali, MD first removing the implants, followed by Dr. Kelley performing a lumpectomy and removed the lymph nodes, and concluding with Dr. Mohebali reconstructing her breasts.
Because the cancer had spread, chemotherapy and radiation therapy were needed. That’s when Marin Cancer Care stepped in. Jennifer Lucas, MD oversaw three months of concentrated chemotherapy and Francine Halberg, MD oversaw radiation treatment. “Surprisingly, I tolerated both of these really well,” reports Patricia. “I did lose all my hair, but it has grown back – nice and curly. I’m feeling great!”
Positive attitude/lots of support made a big difference
“When I first received the cancer diagnosis, I was shocked,” explains Patricia. “Both my cousin and my grandfather died of cancer, so I thought I was going to die.”
She credits her positive attitude – and the support from family, friends and the medical profession – for getting her through the experience.
“The Clinics staff helped me with everything — getting a mammogram right away, coordinating the many doctors’ visits and the hospital stay, and getting me onto Medi-Cal’s special breast cancer program so that I could afford the care. Marin Cancer Care gave me knowledge – they told me what was going to happen, and why, and gave me the confidence that I would be ‘ok.’ Everyone was respectful and responsive – and they listened.”
She also availed herself of MGH’s acupuncture and massage services, and participated in a group nutrition program to help her lose the weight she gained during treatment.
Patricia is the sole support for her son and her mother, so when she was undergoing treatment, she continued to work as a babysitter for a local family. They were very understanding when her energy was low, and her son would assist as well. A cousin in Brazil who is an oncologist called her frequently and her boyfriend was a strong presence, playing guitar music to help her relax.