Fighting Breast Cancer with Saddleback Memorial in Her Corner
After Chani Himes finished college, she left her small Ohio hometown and moved to San Clemente, excited about what her future would hold. She had no idea that future would include breast cancer.
In the spring of 2012, Chani felt a suspicious lump in her breast that she described as ‘hard play dough.’ She went straight to her doctor, who immediately sent her to the MemorialCare Breast Center at Saddleback Memorial. Chani’s breast cancer was diagnosed using mammography and breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). She was 25 years old.
The unexpected diagnosis left Chani reeling. “I wanted to move back to Ohio to be close to my mom,” says Chani. “But as I got to know the doctors, nurses and support staff at Saddleback Memorial, I knew this was where I needed to be for my treatment.”
Chani is not alone in her fight; she has a whole team of oncologists, pathologists, nurses and doctors in her corner. Her multidisciplinary cadre of experts includes breast center nurse navigator Marcie Smith, N.P., who guides patients through the diagnostic, treatment and recovery process. More importantly, Marcie provides support through the emotional journey.
“Marcie is Information Central,” says Chani. “She explains things, organizes my care and even holds my hand when I need it.”
A top priority at Saddleback Memorial is to ensure patients have the information and support they need to make informed decisions. “Chani has her Saddleback Memorial family to get her through this,” says Marcie.
Although most breast cancers are diagnosed in women over the age of 50, up to 10 percent of cases have a known genetic link and may be diagnosed earlier. In fact, a woman has a greater likelihood of developing breast cancer if blood relatives were diagnosed with the disease.
Saddleback Memorial recognizes this genetic link and provides genetic counseling services to those who may have hereditary ties to cancer.
“Women are often surprised to learn they carry genes linked to the disease,” says Richard Reitherman, MD, PhD, medical director of breast imaging. “We analyze family cancer patterns, as well as environmental influences, and provide a genetic risk analysis for every woman who comes to us.”
Even though she had a cousin who died from breast cancer in her twenties, Chani didn’t discover her own condition was hereditary until she received genetic counseling at Saddleback Memorial.
“After diving into our family history, cancer started coming out of the woodwork,” says Chani.
In addition to digital mammography and breast ultrasound, Saddleback Memorial offers diagnostics through a new, dedicated breast MRI scanner. Designed specifically for a woman’s body and used exclusively for breast imaging, its advanced capabilities help detect even the smallest abnormalities in breast tissue.
The level of detail provided by the breast MRI gives valuable information that may not be available through mammography or ultrasound, especially for women who are at high risk for the disease or who have dense breast tissue.
Talk About It
One in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of a lifetime, so it’s important to talk about cancer histories in your family. Starting at age 40, all women should also complete an annual mammogram. Keep in mind, if you’re at a higher risk for developing breast cancer, your doctor may advise you to begin screening much earlier than 40.
“No matter what your age is, let your primary doctor know about your family history,” says Dr. Reitherman. “We all know that early detection saves lives, and that information can make all the difference in the world.”