Breast Surgery - Mastectomy

A Blessing From Above

Heidi Kelsey is a breast surgery patientMere weeks after losing her mother to cancer, Heidi Kelsey, 52, of Milford received a frightening double diagnosis. Not only did she have breast cancer, but she also had thyroid cancer. Thankfully both were caught early, a blessing that she credits to her mother and to her medical team at Milford Regional.

“My mother said, 'Promise me you will go to your primary and get checked out,'” recalls Heidi, who was diagnosed in March 2016. “She knew I had blown it off, and she said, 'Please, you need to do this - you’re always telling me to take care of myself and now it’s time for you to take care of yourself.'”

Though Heidi had lost both parents to cancer and her brother had his prostate removed, her own diagnosis caught her off guard. She was reeling after her mother’s death, finding solace in her job at a hair salon in Upton and with her significant other Frank, her children and her grandson. However, Heidi soon found herself grappling with the news of thyroid nodules and a suspicious mass on her mammogram.

Once the cancer was confirmed, she contacted her mother's medical oncologist, Mona Kaddis, MD, of Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center at Milford Regional (DFBWCC). Dr Kaddis referred her to Salwa Fam, MD, a breast surgeon and medical director of The Breast Center.

“I couldn’t believe this was happening,” says Heidi. “But I trusted Dr. Kaddis implicitly, and when she recommended Dr. Fam, I didn’t even think about going to anyone else. Dr. Fam laid out statistically what would happen and what wouldn’t happen, and was patient when I brought someone to my appointments. She called them "my posse" and thought it was great I had the support. She was open to explaining things and making everyone feel comfortable.”

Although Dr. Fam recommended a single mastectomy, Heidi opted for a double mastectomy. Because of her family history, she felt strongly about taking this more complicated route. Dr. Fam notes that it’s important to lay out all the facts so that patients fully understand the choices. “You want to put all the data out there and quantitate the difference between Option A and Option B, so they can make the decision that is best for them,” she explains. “It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes; to see how they feel and walking the path with them slowly. On the first visit you review everything; and there’s another visit where you ask them how they feel; and sometimes, there’s a third visit to say today, we’re going to make a decision.”

Upon receiving a cancer diagnosis, a multi-disciplinary team of specialists at DFBWCC and Milford Regional work together to develop a comprehensive treatment plan. In Heidi's case, Dr. Kaddis connected her with Dana-Farber genetic counselor Katherine Schneider, MPH, LGC, who met with Heidi on the Milford campus to review her health history and undergo extensive testing. She also met with Christopher Davidson, MD, the plastic surgeon who would perform her reconstructive surgery. In addition, Dr. Fam spoke to Ears, Nose and Throat specialist Joseph Wilson, MD, about scheduling Heidi's thyroid procedure after the mastectomy.

Dr. Fam explains that The Breast Center has Patient Navigator/Physician Assistant Tracy Ann Kuck, MS, PAC, who helps guide patients through education and coordination of appointments with the various Milford Regional and DFBWCC specialists. This extraordinary group of physicians meets every other week to present and discuss patient cases. In between these meetings, the physicians frequently touch base by phone.

“You want to pull in input from everyone involved,” she notes. “Teamwork is very important. Even though we’re all dealing with the same problem, each one of us is looking at it from a different angle.”

On May 12, Heidi had the double mastectomy, followed by thyroid surgery on June 23. In mid-June through late August, she saw Plastic Surgeon Dr. Davidson weekly for follow-ups. She had reconstructive surgeries in September and December. Out of all the surgeries, the double mastectomy had the longest recovery, Heidi relates. “I took the painkillers for not even a week though. It wasn’t a lot of pain, just uncomfortable. Dr. Fam was checking in with me at least a couple times per week.”

Heidi followed up with Dr. Kaddis after both the thyroid surgery and double mastectomy. She was referred to Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine at Milford Regional for occupational therapy to treat lymphedema, a fluid buildup that can occur when lymph nodes are removed as a result of surgery.

“I had lymph nodes taken out of my right arm and the results came back negative, so I didn’t need to have radiation or chemotherapy,” Heidi explains. “But about three weeks after the mastectomy and reconstruction, I could not lift my arm above my chest. After two rehab visits, I had almost my full range of motion back. I was blown away."

Heidi said she was thankful that she didn’t need to drive into Boston to receive quality care. Between her appointments, overnight stays, and calls from her providers to check up on her, she said her experience was amazing.

“I can’t say enough about Milford Regional between my mother being in and out of there, and myself,” Heidi states. “My daughter is a nurse and did her internship in the ICU and loved it. She works for Brigham and Women’s and she advocated for my mother and myself to go to Milford. That’s how comfortable she was. The staff is excellent and so caring. Dr. Fam humanized the whole experience and situation for me, and I trusted her immediately.”

“I’m here, I’m alive, I’m strong,” she concludes. “My kids are healthy. I’m back to work, and that makes me happy.”

Read about the Medical Director of The Breast Center, or call The Breast Center at 508-482-5439.

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