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Tamara Craven | Breast Center Nurse and Patient – Why Early Detection is Key

Tamara Craven | Breast Center Nurse and Patient – Why Early Detection is Key

My experience with Altru’s Breast Center is twofold: as a Registered Nurse and as a patient. This experience would later be a blessing in disguise.

I was an RN float in the clinic and at the time was given the opportunity to train in the Breast Center to help cover an upcoming maternity leave. During my time with the Breast Center, I had learned the intricacies of the department; from working the referrals, assisting with the breast biopsies, to notifying the patient of the biopsy results and what the next steps would be. To some, this may sound like an ordinary day at work.

What is challenging about working in the Breast Center, is that as nurses we don’t always know how our patients will respond when they receive a phone call stating that they need to come back to have further workup done because there are areas in the breast that are of concern. Or, talking with the patient that the next step is to have a breast biopsy or calling the patient to inform them of their biopsy results. Communicating this type of information daily to the patient is so raw and delicate that at times it can become heavy on the nurse.

My time with the Breast Center was soon coming to an end and while I was waiting to hear where I would be floated to next, I took the time to reflect on my experience in the department and the one clear message that was reinforced to me was the importance of routine mammograms as early detection is the key component to the overall end result.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 67 and at the time she chose to have a mastectomy of the left breast along with chemotherapy and did well. Due to my family history and my experience from working in the Breast Center, getting my own annual mammogram became a priority.

In 2017, I went in for my routine mammogram and a few days later, I saw the incoming call and my heart began to pound as I knew all too well the meaning of this particular phone call. I answered the phone and the nurse on the other end of the call began to say, “we need to have you come back for further workup as there are areas in the right breast that are of concern.” As the nurse continued to talk, I tuned her out as I started to go over in my head of what was ahead of me, more mammograms and the possibility of a biopsy.

When I was done going through all the logistics in my head, the overwhelming feeling of anxiety had hit me as I began to ruminate about all the different case scenarios that eventually snowballed into a mental battle. I wondered if this is what the other patients felt like when the table was turned when I had to call them to give them the news. I returned for further workup and met with the physician and the recommendation at the time was to have a breast biopsy. The breast biopsy was done, and the results came back benign, and the next step would be to continue with routine annual mammograms. Again, I made this a priority.

The last three years, I was diligent about having my annual mammogram and thankfully each time the results came back benign. However, in 2021, the outcome was different. I went in for my annual mammogram and a few days later, I saw a familiar incoming phone call. This time I took a deep breath, answered the phone and listened to the nurse once again say, “we need to have you come back for further workup as there are areas in the right breast that are of concern.” I once again return for further workup and again the recommendation is to have a breast biopsy and I thought to myself, ‘this isn’t your first rodeo with this process, it’s going to be ok.’

The biopsy was done, and the results came back as Atypical Ductal Hyperplasia. The next step/recommendation would be a lumpectomy. At this point, I tried not to panic, and I felt as if I was starting to lose control over my health and I knew that I needed to regain control. This is when I empowered myself with information. I did a lot of research on my new diagnosis as well as the recommended procedure so that I was educated and could ask more clarifying questions when I met with the surgeon in order to make the best decision in my treatment. The lumpectomy was performed, and the results came back benign. Although this was great news to hear, I am still not out of the woods yet as the next step is to meet with an Oncologist.

The quality of patient care that I received both in the Breast Center and with my surgeon was fueled by empathy and compassion. The nurses, Brenda and Josie, Dr. McGauvran, and Dr. Pratt all took the time to sit down to talk with me and answer all my questions. Both providers took the time to draw and show pictures to help explain the “why” for a biopsy and lumpectomy all the while offering hope and perspective in the midst of honest communication which put me at ease. At no time did I ever feel that my care was rushed or the feeling of being on an assembly line just waiting to take my turn. I have a heartfelt appreciation for the work that the Breast Center is doing, it isn’t always easy, but it is so needed and appreciated.

Today, I am forever grateful to have been given the opportunity to work in the Breast Center as well as having my own diagnosis as I am able to share my experience, strength, and hope as a nurse and as a patient.

To schedule your mammogram, sign in to MyChart or call 701.780.6157.