Breast cancer by the numbers

Amber Jackson, a nurse in the infusion unit of the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center, talks to a patient. (Herald Review photo/Candy Allan)

Amber Jackson, a nurse in the infusion unit of the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center, talks to a patient. (Herald Review photo/Candy Allan)

REED CITY — The numbers related to breast cancer can be staggering.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.

Every two minutes, a woman in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer, states the Susan G. Komen Foundation “Breast Cancer Fact Sheet.” The foundation’s website lists “being female” and “getting older” as the two most common risk factors for developing the disease.

In 2016, Sharon Kennedy, of Evart, was one of the women who received a diagnosis of breast cancer.

“I had a mammogram at the end of April at the Reed City hospital,” Kennedy recalled. “They had me come back and they did a needle biopsy to confirm it.”

Kennedy is far from alone.

Amber Jackson, a nurse in the infusion unit of the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center, checks an IV bag as she sets up the dosing instructions. (Herald Review photo/Candy Allan)

Amber Jackson, a nurse in the infusion unit of the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center, checks an IV bag as she sets up the dosing instructions. (Herald Review photo/Candy Allan)

An estimated 8,160 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in Michigan women in 2017, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Those cases will be part of more than 250,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer nationwide, according to the Komen Foundation. Most of these cases will be women, though men aren’t immune to the disease. Approximately 2,470 new cases expected to be diagnosed in men this year.

People facing cancer diagnoses locally often can receive their treatment relatively close to home, at the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City. Patients come from 15 counties surrounding the center, with most of them living in Mecosta, Osceola, Lake and Newaygo counties.

For Kennedy, the option to receive care 18 minutes from home rather than driving to Grand Rapids every day was a game-changer.

When she learned she’d need to undergo 21 radiation treatments to combat invasive ductal carcinoma, she didn’t want to travel to the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion in downtown Grand Rapids every day.

“I was so grateful not to have to drive from Evart to Lemmen-Holton,” Kennedy said. “We’re not city drivers, we’re country drivers. I was really happy I could have all 21 treatments right here. They were Monday through Friday, one treatment a day, and it takes me 18 minutes to drive from my house to here. If I’d had to go to Grand Rapids, it would have taken at least half a day to get there, have the treatment and get home.”

Kennedy is one of the 332 women who have been treated for breast cancer at the Wheatlake center since it opened in 2013. In a year, the facility sees about 375 patients, with approximately 10 percent of those being breast cancer patients, said Lyni Nowak, family nurse practitioner at the center.

While the patient numbers are in the hundreds, treatment options are focused on each one as an individual. People must have a positive biopsy result before they are seen by the providers at the Wheatlake center and their individual journey begins with a visit with a medical oncologist for treatment evaluation and planning, Nowak said.

“We look at their cellular diagnosis and what treatments would be best,” she said, adding options varied according to the type of cancer involved and whether the patient had certain types of genetic markers. “Certain cell markers respond better to certain types of chemotherapy.”

Lyni Nowak, family nurse practitioner, often talks to patients by phone as she helps them get questions answered and manage their symptoms at home. (Courtesy photo)

Lyni Nowak, family nurse practitioner, often talks to patients by phone as she helps them get questions answered and manage their symptoms at home. (Courtesy photo)

Treatment plans vary for each individual. Some patients may have chemotherapy, while others get radiation, for example. Likewise, the number and duration of treatments is dependent on the individual case.

In the infusion unit, 15 armchairs are arranged in a semicircle around the nurses station. Ideally, patients are scheduled with the same two nurses throughout their treatment so they can better develop a connection, Nowak said.

“It’s easier to develop rapport if you see the same people, so the patients feel safer,” she said.

The idea of getting to know patients is important in the radiation wing, as well. When patients are visiting on a regular basis, it’s nice to see familiar faces you know, Kennedy said.

“The nursing staff is wonderful,” she said. “At my first treatment, I cried. I couldn’t explain why I was so fearful. All I could think of was the strong rays that were going to shoot through my skin into my body and I hated that — it made me sad and fearful.

“They did their best to help me through that. By the second round, I felt like a pro.”

Even though Kennedy’s radiation treatments were completed in 2016, she continues to visit the center for follow-up care and services.

“They didn’t want me to begin massage (therapy) or taking advantage of all the services until I was done with my radiation,” she said. “When I had my last treatment, I scheduled an appointment with the massage therapist — she’s amazing. I could get reflexology treatments and back and shoulder massages for up to a year after treatment free of charge — who does that??”

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