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In just over a year, she received three cancer diagnoses

Last Modified: 3/03/2020

Cancer Patient

This post was written based on an interview with Sandy Nellans, patient, Parkview Cancer Institute.  

Everyone says that once you turn 70, you start to fall apart. Well, I’m 73 and I can tell you that keeping the names of all of my doctors straight lately has been quite tough! I always had my yearly doctor’s appointments and check-ups for my blood pressure, but nothing like this last year or so.

October 2018

I went for my normal mammogram, and they called me back and said they needed to do a diagnostic test as a follow-up. I’d done this before – I have dense breasts – so I wasn’t shocked. I was shocked, however, when they called and said that they’d been watching a spot and it had changed a bit. They had one thing they wanted to biopsy in my left breast, which turned out to be cancer, and then something they wanted to biopsy in my right breast, which ended up being nothing.

I did the biopsies on the same day. For my left breast, they did an ultrasound biopsy, which was so easy. But on the other side, they had a bit of difficult time and had to use a more invasive method. It was incredibly painful and, unfortunately, I developed a large hematoma afterward.  

November 2018

Just before Thanksgiving, Linda Han, MD, PPG – Oncology, Breast Care Team, did my lumpectomy and drained my hematoma. I was over 70 and had Stage 1A ER-positive, PR-positive, HR2-negative breast cancer, which influenced the medication they put me on. I did not require any radiation or chemotherapy.

Of course, the timing of the procedure, being so close to the holiday, was ironic. It made me much more grateful and appreciative of everyone and all of the good things in my life. I have to say, and this goes for all of the things that were to come, everything I’ve had has been very simple. If you had to pick something, I got the option you would pick. From the very beginning, they said, “This is not a big deal. You will get through this very easily.” I took them at their word and they were right.

March 2019

During this time, Stefani Yudasz, NP, with the breast care team, was reviewing my MRI from 2017 and thought she saw a little something suspicious in my chest. I went for a CT scan, which ultimately revealed a thickening in my esophagus. They scheduled a PET scan, which didn’t tell them anything additional.  I was referred to Reshi Kanuru, MD, PPG – Gastroenterology, and I have to say, he was wonderful!

When we received the results of the PET scan, there wasn’t anything of concern. I was starting to feel like they were just running tests because they could, though ultimately I would be so grateful that they did.

May 2019

I went to see my dermatologist for my normal yearly checkup and she noticed a spot on my skin that she didn’t like. It wasn’t any bigger than an eraser on a pencil, but sure enough, she did a biopsy and it came back melanoma.

My first thought was, “You have got to be kidding me! This can’t be happening.” But, I take the approach in life that you just deal with things as they come, whatever it is. Attitude in relation to cancer is so important. So, I had to accept that I was going through this now. Of all of the things I experienced, this was probably the most time-consuming. Honestly, the lumpectomy was nothing compared to the skin cancer procedure.

June 2019

Once I knew it was cancer, I reached out to my nurse navigator at the Cancer Institute and she ended up referring me to Kevin Berning, MD, PPG – Plastic Surgery, and he was great. I had the surgery on June 3. My son-in-law is a doctor and he warned me that this could be more involved than I anticipated, but when I woke up, I couldn’t believe it. My arm was wrapped from just below my elbow to below my wrist. It was a five-inch incision when all was said and done. (They wanted nice clean margins all around.) But it’s healed beautifully.

I also met with Dr. Kanuru  in June regarding the thickening of my esophagus. He ordered a colonoscopy and endoscopy for August, which wasn’t a big deal. There were a few small nodules that he did biopsies on and then he noticed a small nodule on my duodenum (the first part of the small intestine), so he referred me – you guessed it – to another doctor, Neil Sharma, MD, PPG – Oncology.

To be honest, I met with the nurse practitioner from Dr. Sharma’s office, but I was starting to feel a little overwhelmed. I decided to put off their recommendation for six months. I told them I would revisit it after the first of the year.

October 2019

In October, I had a follow-up CT scan, DEXA scan and mammogram. I received a call a short time later from Dr. Han’s office saying they needed to schedule me for a biopsy. They found a suspicious lymph node in my left armpit. Dr. Han did the ultrasound biopsy and, because of the location, it was a little more involved. I had quite a bit of bruising, but I was starting to get used to that.

November 2019

Because she suspected the results from the biopsy indicated an issue outside of her area of expertise, Dr. Han referred me to Jeffrey Letzer, DO, PPG – Oncology, Hematology Care Team. The first biopsy revealed that I had low grade lymphoma. Right away, Dr. Letzer assured me, “You will live forever with this. It will not kill you. You will die from something else.” Again, if you had to pick, this was the one you wanted. Before he did anything, he wanted to present my case to the Tumor Board. They recommended a follow-up CT scan and PET scan, and then they actually said, “Then leave her alone!” I appreciated that.

I see Dr. Letzer every three months now, and we’re keeping an eye on things. I can do my bloodwork in Warsaw, where I live, before my appointments, which is convenient. My lymphoma could stay just as it is for my entire life, but if it changes, Dr. Letzer said there are some wonderful new options available, so it’s very positive. For now, my body is taking care of the cancer and we don’t feel compelled to do anything else.

January 2020

I kept my promise, and went to see Dr. Sharma. He performed an EGD with endoscopic US/EMR, which, as I understood it, was similar to an endoscopy but with a small camera attached. He found a nodule in my duodenum, but said everything else looked good. At this point, he’s not inclined to do anything with it other than monitor it once a year. So, that’s where I’m at right now.

Looking to the future

When people hear that they have cancer, they’re devastated. But it isn’t always a death sentence. I remember at one of my doctor’s appointments, I made the joke, “I guess I shouldn’t go spend all my money just yet, huh?” and we laughed.

I don’t go to church often, but I certainly believe in God. I firmly believe that He’s in charge of everything, and it’s all going to play out the way He wants it to. Granted, in life there are things you can do that change the course you’re on, but I believe that, on the day we’re born, we already have an expiration date. Whatever happens in between, that’s just the way it’s going to be.

Through all of this, I’ve never been scared. I don’t know why, maybe I get it from my dad. I just feel like I need to do the best I can do, and falling apart isn’t going to help anything. I’m grateful. I’m grateful that I have resources within me to pull from. I have tremendous family support; They’re always telling me how proud of me they are. I have great friends around me. And I have that feeling that someone else is in control, and I think that helps, too. I’ve just tried to keep it business as usual.

Sure, it’s always in the back of my mind … what’s next? Will they find something else? But I have to keep my mind set on the fact that we’re doing good right now, and that’s all that matters.

I knew about the Parkview Cancer Institute. I’d followed the news when they were building the new facility and they came to the YMCA in Warsaw to talk to us before the opening. I was familiar with it, but I can tell you, now, how incredibly grateful I am that they are here. You have a specialist in every field and they are all phenomenal. This place, and these people, are incredible.

 

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