Sharing our Stories
Laura Kempe of Youngstown was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2012 after her mammogram came back suspicious. Laura was nervous when her doctor recommended she have a biopsy, but felt more at ease after visiting the Joanie Abdu Comprehensive Breast Care Center.
“The tech was so good – I was so relaxed. They were all so wonderful to me,” Laura said.
After having genetic testing done, Laura discussed her results with Dr. Nancy Gantt. Test results revealed her breast cancer was not genetic. Laura’s breast cancer was hormone-receptor positive, and she decided to have a left mastectomy.
“Dr. Gantt changed my whole perspective; she got me ready to take charge of my breast cancer,” Laura said. “She even called me the night before my surgery to ask if I was ready.”
After her left mastectomy in May 2012, Laura was back to work as a nurse after just a few quick weeks. She is currently receiving hormonal therapy under the care of her oncologist
“If you have to have that experience, it’s good to have such great people to help you through it,” Laura said of the care she received at the center.
When Debra Jamison, 49, of McDonald, came to the JACBCC for a routine check-up the doctors found a suspicious area in her mammogram. While Debra’s mammograms typically showed some irregular results, doctors had always concluded that she had nothing to be concerned about. But this was a different spot and her doctor asked that she return the next day for more testing.
“I was so nervous sitting in that testing room,” Debra said. “But the technician spent time with me and walked me through the whole process step by step – she was a sweetheart and a half.”
Although Debra’s diagnosis did not require more than a biopsy, she appreciated that Jill Townsend, the center’s breast health navigator, called to check on her multiple times. “I couldn’t have asked for a nicer group to take care of me. I had myself all worked up for nothing,” Debra commented of the care she received at the center.
Lillie Johnson had a strong family history of cancer and was diagnosed in August 1995. A retired elementary school music teacher and active in community organizations, Lillie is also a Reach To Recovery Trainer who counsels other breast cancer patients.
“One of the worst parts is the waiting for results. Because that wondering…that’s what really tears you up. Not knowing is so difficult.
“Once you have a diagnosis, you frequently have to get films, take them to a doctor, sometimes take them back. Now if you’re going through all this anguish, that’s just one more thing you shouldn’t have to do.
“If everything is right in one spot, you get answers, you have a schedule, your surgeon is there; it’s just much easier. You also have a resource for knowledge and I always tell my patients, be assertive. You have to stay on top of the case. Know everything about your condition.
“I also tell the patients there is life after cancer. You have to keep a positive attitude. I really believe in that. You just have to say ‘I am going to be fine.’”
Sister Stella Schmid
Sister Stella Schmid was at stage-3 when she was diagnosed in January of 2000. She endured a mastectomy, two rounds of chemo and radiation. As a retired nurse of 40 years, Sister Stella found the roles reversed.
“I devoted my entire life to caring for others and all of a sudden I found myself being a patient, dependent on everyone else to give me the right medication, the right treatment and that was a real learning experience.
“Everything came at me so fast. You have to make major decisions within a short period of time. You immediately say to yourself, ‘what’s going to happen with my life?’
“When you’re in an environment where they’re focused just on you…they’ll all have the same type of approach and compassion, and can direct a woman to the kind of services she’ll need. That is so helpful and so important.
“You have a better chance when you have that kind of system, the entire team is educated. You’re not just another patient; it’s not just another case…that will be wonderful for this community.”
Dr. Nancy Gantt
When Dr. Gantt, Curriculum Director for NEOUCOM in Surgery, found a small lump during a self-exam, she didn’t think it was cancer. Neither did the doctor who removed the lump. However, when she and her pathologist examined the tissue, they realized it was a small breast cancer. Ironically, the majority of Dr. Gantt’s patients are breast cancer patients.
“I’m very spiritual and it was almost like God was giving me the gift of insight into what my patients go through. I’m not better from a support standpoint; I’m better at nurturing my patients through this experience.
“Studies show that your mental attitude is important in fighting off cancer. Being comfortable with the care you get is critical. I traveled to Pittsburgh, got an MRI and the results that day. I underwent another biopsy, had a digital mammogram and got those results two days later. It was very comforting to have everything move so quickly.
“With the Joanie Abdu Center, we’ll have that same top level of care and efficiency here. This Center will bring all of our resources together; we’ll be able to reach out to all women, including the underserved women in this community and offer the high level standard of care, comfort and support they deserve.”
Madelon was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 2005 and ultimately needed to have a double mastectomy. Madelon, a long-time Mahoning Valley resident, businesswoman and supporter of the local area, had her surgery done in a Cleveland hospital.
She would have preferred to stay in town.
“I like to do business in this town. I want to deal with people in this town. I felt like a traitor going away! Taking all of that insurance money out of town. But the waiting was excruciating and the care was fractured.
“As patients, we don’t want to go to Cleveland or Pittsburgh hospitals. It’s nice to know they are there, but it would be nicer to be able to stay here. We want to be home. We want our husbands and our kids to be able to run over and visit us at night. If you’re a mom, there’s still that feeling that at some level you shouldn’t be inconveniencing people…I wanted it to be easier for them.”