After a routine mammogram at the MemorialCare Breast Center in Rancho Mission Viejo, Amy Howrigan received a call from the team suggesting that she schedule a follow-up biopsy.
Her biopsy revealed that she had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is considered the earliest form of breast cancer in one side of her breast. A second biopsy confirmed that she had invasive ductal carcinoma cancer, meaning it was spreading beyond the ducts, in the other breast.
In August 2022, Amy was diagnosed with Stage 2A lymph node negative breast cancer. Immediately, she knew she wanted to opt for a double mastectomy.
Soon after, she met with Dr. Amy Bremner, who is the medical director of Breast Surgical Oncology at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center, to come up with a treatment plan. Amy shared, “It was refreshing when I told her what I wanted to do and after presenting me with all of my options, she honored my surgical decision. There was a lot of freedom to honor someone’s personal choice.”
Although Amy experienced some anxiety before surgery, the care team was there to reassure and comfort her along with volunteers from the Breastlink Angels Navigator Volunteer Program, which exists to enhance the treatment of the whole breast cancer patient − mind, body and spirit. Amy was assigned an angel who had been through a similar diagnosis and chatted with her for hours.
“The doctors are amazing, but you also need a network of women who have been through a similar thing. That is what gives you the emotional support to get through it,” said Amy.
In October, Amy underwent a double mastectomy with reconstruction. After surgery, her medical oncologist, Dr. Bhavana Pathak, recommended a genomic test called Oncotype DX, which predicts the likelihood of the cancer reoccurring and helps determine if the cancer would respond to chemotherapy.
“Amy’s test results revealed that she would not benefit greatly from chemotherapy and since her margins from surgery were clear, we decided to forgo chemotherapy and radiation,” says Dr. Pathak. “We use the latest technology and research to ensure that we create personalized treatment plans for our patients that specifically target their genetic makeup and cancer type, which leads to the best outcomes for them.”
Months after her surgeries, during one of her regular check-ups with Dr. Pathak, Amy had expressed that she was having irregular and heavy menstrual bleeding.
As a fellow yogi, Dr. Pathak knew that Amy was very in tune with her body and recognized that something was off. “Being in tune with your body can really help during treatments. There is a mind-body connection,” said Dr. Pathak.
This symptom could have been a side effect of tamoxifen, a drug used to lessen the chance of breast cancer reoccurrence, that she had been taking post-surgery. However, Dr. Pathak thought there might be more going on. When going through Amy’s blood work, Dr. Pathak noticed that she was anemic and suggested that she see a gynecologist.
“Although Dr. Pathak is my oncologist, she really cared for me in all aspects of my health,” said Amy.
After a visit with Dr. Lilly Singh, OB/GYN with MemorialCare Medical Group, it was discovered that Amy had uterine fibroids that were causing these symptoms. Amy reviewed her options and decided to undergo a hysterectomy to eliminate her heavy bleeding, as well as her risk for uterine and cervical cancers.
“Dr. Singh was awesome and empowering. She made it so easy. I felt really grateful to be able to make these decisions and advocate for myself, all while knowing that I was supported by my care team,” said Amy.
After undergoing a double mastectomy, reconstruction surgery and hysterectomy, Amy is back to feeling more like herself and has resumed her favorite activities including going to the gym and practicing yoga.
Amy will continue to seek care with the team at MemorialCare Cancer Institute to ensure that she continues to thrive.
About 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Regular mammograms can help find breast cancer at an early stage (often before symptoms appear), when treatment is most likely to be successful. Don't delay your mammogram. We make it easy with 24/7 online scheduling for all nine of our MemorialCare Breast Centers across Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Schedule your appointment now.