Patient Story: Pamela Anderson
Ms. Anderson, a medical nurse practitioner with the New Jersey Department of Corrections, was focused on raising her 11-year-old daughter and completing her Doctor of Nursing Practice program at Fairleigh Dickinson University so she could graduate later that year.
The news was jarring. “I sat there a few moments not knowing whether to scream or cry,” Ms. Anderson remembered. “As a nurse, it’s a whole different world when you are on the other side of the fence. But I gathered my thoughts and decided to face this head on and find the best treatment.”
At the recommendation of a colleague, Ms. Anderson sought the care of Serena Wong, MD, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS) and a Medical Oncologist at The Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ).
Ms. Anderson had an aggressive but early stage cancer. Dr. Wong recommended that she first have the tumor removed.
During pre-admission testing, Ms. Anderson experienced another scare when a chest X-ray appeared suspect. “I suddenly felt like my life was spiraling out of control,” she said. She had recently become a single mom, relocated and lost a mentor to lung cancer. Facing her own serious illness, she felt overwhelmed. The questionable spot turned out to be a shadow, but, recognizing she needed support, the radiology technician walked Ms. Anderson across the hall to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s (RWJ’s) Breast Care Connection, a unique breast health program designed specifically to guide women through the breast health process in a private, comfortable environment.
There she met Lynn Lutwin, RN, Director of the Breast Care Connection and a Breast Health Navigator who assisted Ms. Anderson with the remainder of her treatment by arranging physician appointments, educating her on her diagnosis and supporting her emotionally throughout her journey.
“Lynn spoke with me and was so comforting. On another visit, I spoke with Deborah Leif, MSW, LCSW, a social worker with CINJ,” Ms. Anderson recalled. “I was sick, emotionally devastated. The tech, Lynn and Debbie all were so supportive. They really helped me through it.”
Aparna H. Kolli, MD, an Instructor of Surgery at RWJMS and a Breast Surgical Oncologist at CINJ, removed Ms. Anderson’s tumor and was right there with her after surgery. “She was so reassuring and I can’t tell you what that meant to see her there,” Ms. Anderson said.
Following her lumpectomy, testing revealed that three of Ms. Anderson’s lymph nodes were also affected. “To minimize her risk of recurrence and destroy any remaining cancer cells, I suggested an aggressive treatment plan - chemotherapy and radiation,” Dr. Wong explained.
Ms. Anderson postponed her graduate work to complete 20 weeks of chemotherapy and then enrolled in a clinical trial at CINJ which examines the benefits of abbreviated whole breast radiation therapy.
“With this treatment, we exploit the unique sensitivity of breast cancer cells to higher daily doses of radiation, thus making the treatment shorter and less disruptive without the risk of hurting normal cells,” explained Atif J. Khan, MD, an Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at RWJMS and a Radiation Oncologist at RWJ and CINJ who oversaw Ms. Anderson’s treatment. “Data from recent clinical trials revealed that these shorter treatments produced the same effect as conventional 6-week treatments.”
Ms. Anderson completed her treatment on December 28, 2011 and is now cancer-free. When it comes to breast cancer, the diagnosis can be devastating. It is important for patients to have access to world-class medical professionals, state-of-the-art technology, the latest in medical treatments, exceptional support services and clinical research. Because she chose RWJ, Ms. Anderson had access to it all – in a single location.
“The care was holistic and delivered by amazing people,” Ms. Anderson said. “Now I’m looking forward to finishing up my degree and graduating in May.”