Having been a police officer in Philadelphia and Chambersburg for over 20 years, Ana Carey knows a thing or two about being brave. She would come to rely on that bravery in a very different way on Dec. 3, 2014.
"That's the day the doctor sat me down and told me I had breast cancer," Ana says. "He told me a lot of things that day, but after that, I couldn't hear anything else. I cried for days. Not because I was thinking I was going to die, but about how I was going to tell my family this news."
Ana relates that in November of 2014, she felt a lump in her right breast and went to see her family doctor at WellSpan Health. "I initially wasn't concerned because it didn't hurt," she says. "Plus, no one in my family had cancer." Her doctor immediately sent her for a mammogram and ultrasound. The images revealed changes consistent with breast cancer where she felt the mass.
The radiologist at Rhonda Brake Shreiner Women's Center discussed the need for a biopsy, and an ultrasoundguided biopsy was performed on Dec. 1. The test revealed Ana's tumor was malignant and she chose to see breast surgeon Dr. Stephen Carter for treatment. WellSpan Health's Breast Patient Navigator coordinated with Dr. Carter's staff to ensure Ana's appointment was scheduled quickly.
"Dr. Carter told me the tumor was about the size of a tangerine," Carey says. "He and Dr. John Robinson, my oncologist, explained several treatment options to me, including a mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation--all tough choices. I chose chemotherapy."
And it worked. Ana says that over the course of her intensive chemotherapy treatment at WellSpan Health, the tumor shrank to the size of a quarter. "My doctors then performed a lumpectomy, and then I did radiation treatments. Today I'm feeling really good and, God willing, the cancer is gone."
The treatment and recovery process wasn't easy, Ana explains, nor was the emotional rollercoaster she was on throughout the course of her difficult journey. "It was incredibly hard, but my surgeon, oncologist, radiologist, the nursing teams, the support group ... they all worked together as one team to help me get better. They made it so much easier. They were all there for me as a person, and they are like a family to me now."
Shoulders to Lean On
In addition to medical treatment for Ana's breast cancer, emotional support played a critical role in getting through the process.
"Being diagnosed with breast cancer and going through treatment for it was really tough, and I had so much fear," Ana says. "Alongside the love of my family and the skills of my medical teams, I couldn't have gotten through the whole thing without my Breast Cancer Support Group at WellSpan Health." Laura Umbrell, LPN and CN-BC, created the group and facilitates it.
For Ana, it was important to maintain a positive attitude about treatment and recovery throughout the whole healing process. "That's hard to do when you're faced with the hard realities of cancer," she says, "but the people in my support group helped me get through it every step of the way." And according to Umbrell, these steps aren't always purely medical. "For some people, they find that they have recovered in mind, body and soul. That's really what the support group addresses," she says.
Today, Ana is giving back. "Now I go to the group to help support people with cancer, not for myself as a patient. Now I do it for them." Umbrell points out that this is not uncommon. "I have some people who have stayed active in the support group because they feel that this is how they give back."
The Breast Cancer Support Group at WellSpan Health meets at 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month at WellSpan Medical Oncology & Hematology Services in Chambersburg. For more information, please call Laura Umbrell at 717-217-6747.