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Amy Owen - Patient Story

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“I knew I had to fight for my life”

— Amy Owen

During a self-breast exam in December 2001, 33-year-old mother of two, Amy Owen, noticed something unusual. “It felt like a frozen pea,” she shares. It was one week before Christmas and Amy considered ignoring the sign. Instead, she followed her instinct and called her OB/GYN to schedule an appointment. That doctor referred Amy for a mammogram and told her not to worry. At her community hospital, following the mammogram, the on-site radiologist noticed something suspicious and ordered a breast ultrasound. After review, Amy was referred to an oncologist for further determination.

By mid-January, 2002, she met with a doctor who performed a core needle biopsy.  “The doctor believed the small lump was malignant but the growth had to be sent to pathology for confirmation,” Amy recalls.

Three days before her 34th birthday, in January, 2002, Amy was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. “Sara, my daughter, was 26 months old and Michael, my son, was 11 months old. There was no way I was going to let this ‘monster’ take me from my children and leave them to grow up without a mother. I was determined to fight,” Amy explains. During this time, Amy’s father was receiving treatment at Fox Chase Cancer Center for renal cell carcinoma. “He had my reports sent to Fox Chase because he said it was the best choice for me,” Amy adds.Amy with her children Sara and Michael.

At Fox Chase, the oncologists believe in a multi-disciplinary approach to treating cancer. Amy’s initial team including medical oncologist, Margaret von Mehren, MD, surgical oncologist, John P. Hoffman, MD, FACS and radiation oncologist, Penny R. Anderson, MD.

“The doctors evaluated my films and considered my young age. They recommended a lumpectomy, followed radiation therapy. In February, 2002, Dr. Hoffman performed a sentinel node biopsy with simple lumpectomy. During the procedure, Dr. Hoffman discovered that two out of 19 lymph nodes were affected he could not attain clear margins on the lumpectomy (meaning the cancer was gone from the tissue surrounding the tumor). Dr. Hoffman made a somewhat difficult decision to conclude surgery and consider another course of action. At the time, a radical mastectomy was not an option due to the length of time Amy was anesthetized and that there was no plastic surgeon available.

The next step for Amy was to meet with Dr. von Mehren who ordered eight rounds of chemotherapy to attack the cancer. Admittedly, losing her hair was not as emotional as she thought it would have been. “I was not devastated by my hair loss but rather tried to make it fun for myself:  I had no bad hair days, didn’t have to spend money on haircuts and I was cool in the summer months.” Amy recounts. She said this positive attitude helped her healing process. “I had two choices I could ponder ‘why me’ or I could fight for my life. I chose to fight.”

Amy recalls that she managed the side effects fairly well and found comfort from the infusion room staff at Fox Chase. “My children often accompanied me to treatment,” recalls Amy. “In addition to the soft pretzels – a big hit – they were always greeted by a smile at Fox Chase. I think my children thought all moms were bald. In the back of my mind, I couldn't help but notice that typically I was the youngest person there,” Amy continues.   

In September, 2002, after successful chemotherapy, Dr. Hoffman performed a right breast mastectomy. A plastic and reconstructive surgeon (who is no longer on staff) performed the reconstruction with tissue expanders at the same time. Following recovery, Dr. Anderson began Amy on 25 sessions of radiation therapy to ensure the cancer was gone. Following radiation, in January 2003, Dr. von Mehren began Amy on Tamoxifen, a drug that has been proven to reduce the chance of recurrence.   

In May, 2003, Amy underwent additional reconstructive surgery to match the left breast and nipple to the “new” right breast. During this time, Amy was pleased that the Fox Chase team always kept her pain under control. After several years of inconsistent mammograms of her left breast, in 2013, Amy decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy of her left breast. “I wanted peace of mind and thought it was what should be done,” she says. Together, Marcia Boraas, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist, and Neal S. Topham, MD, FACS, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery, performed the mastectomy and reconstruction.

“The staff I met at Fox Chase do an amazing job making sure their patients are not in pain,” she says. “Not once was I sent home from a surgery concerned or not fully informed of what to expect. I understood my pain management routine and there was someone always available by phone. That’s a great comfort.” In 2015, at the age of 47, Amy wanted to feel “whole again” so she underwent a procedure to have 3-D tattoos applied to both breasts. “I look in the mirror and I’m happy with what I see. I feel great,” she says.

In addition to her compassionate oncologists, surgeons and other doctors, Amy is especially grateful to her team of nurses - Colleen Turrisi, Kathryn Tumelty and Jonathan Bidey, who performed the 3-D tattooing.

Today, Amy and her husband are raising two teenagers, while she balances a full-time job as an insurance administrator. In her spare time, Amy enjoys cooking, concerts, listening to music and playing with her dogs, Buddy and Holly. “I can’t thank Fox Chase enough for all the support and quality care they have given me. I am in remission and living my life the way I always hoped,” Amy says.

One important issue that Amy wants to share with women is that they should understand the importance of self-breast exams. “It’s a must,” she says.

 

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