Annie Miyazaki-Grant: Empathetic Breast Cancer Care Makes the Difference

“There’s a real patient-centered model at Fox Chase that has trickled down way beyond the clinical team. You never feel like a burden or like you’re asking for too much.”
‐Annie Miyazaki-Grant

In March 2022, my sister discovered a lump in her breast completely by accident. I consider myself pretty on top of these things, but I decided to do an impromptu self-exam and I also found a lump. From there, both of us went through mammograms, biopsies, and countless appointments before being diagnosed with breast cancer within a week of each other. It was surreal.

Choosing the Right Cancer Center

When the biopsies confirmed my diagnosis was triple-positive breast cancer in both breasts, I quickly realized I wasn’t sure about getting treatment in New York City, where my family and I were living. The imposing buildings, the noise, needing to walk multiple city blocks to get bloodwork and then more blocks for imaging and then even more blocks to see a doctor — it felt too hectic and uncoordinated to me.

Just the year before my diagnosis, my family and our two golden doodles had been spending part of our time in East Falls, Pennsylvania, and we participated in Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Paws for the Cause fundraising event. We’d been invited by our friends Jason Castellanos and Emily Castellanos, who are both doctors at Fox Chase. I had distinct memories of feeling at peace on the campus, and the people we met were lovely and compassionate. Fox Chase felt like the right place for treatment.

Annie Miyazaki-Grant with her two dogs.

Incredible Empathy From Day One

At Emily’s recommendation, my family and I met with a medical oncologist who specialized in the treatment of breast cancer. Although that physician is no longer at Fox Chase, at that very first appointment, I knew I was in the right hands. The level of empathy that he and his nurse, Monica Faherty-Maletz, demonstrated went beyond anything I’d ever experienced. They spent more than three hours with us discussing my records, the research studies available, and the recommended standard of care.

We even talked about what treatment would mean for my potential to have more children and whether I wanted to try scalp cooling to preserve my hair during chemotherapy. My doctor, Monica, and the rest of their team clearly cared about my quality of life and how I felt about myself. They didn’t assume or push anything. Instead, they focused on getting to know me and my family and understanding what was important to us so we could proceed with confidence.

My first step was to begin neoadjuvant chemotherapy and targeted HER2 biologic therapies to help slow or stop the growth of the cancer cells in my breasts. At my first infusion, I was extremely nervous because I had no idea what I was about to experience. But my chemo nurse, John, was incredible. He patiently explained what he was doing, why he was doing it, what I might feel, and what I could expect at my next session.

He was also adept at guiding and supporting my mother, who was there to support me. “Mom, you’d better write this stuff down,” he’d say. He knew exactly how to help us feel more at ease and in control. At later chemotherapy sessions, I saw John and his fellow nurses going through these same explanations with other patients who were new to chemotherapy.

The nurses must have repeated the same words a thousand times, but they never acted bored, and they showed the same empathy to everybody. In addition to John, I was in great hands with Kelly, Nancy, Dana, Deborah, and so many other amazing nurses who exhibited seemingly infinite kindness during my weekly infusion and hydration appointments.

Surgery Success

In October 2022, I underwent a double mastectomy performed by surgical oncologist Dr. Andrea Porpiglia, who made me feel so comfortable and reassured. After the double mastectomy, my lymph nodes came back clear of cancer, so I was able to forgo radiation.

I had several reconstructive surgeries performed by Dr. Adam Walchak, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and his fantastic team, and I’ve continued to go back regularly for follow-ups.

I also received incredible support from Dr. Emmie Chen, a psychiatrist who specializes in treating patients with cancer and other complicated illnesses. The stress and anxiety of my cancer journey was overwhelming at times, but Dr. Chen made things infinitely more manageable.

Throughout all of this, my nurse Monica was at my side. Very few humans have a spirit that is so warm and positive and loving, and I was determined to stay with her. Fortunately, I was ultimately matched with Dr. Jennifer Winn as my new medical oncologist, and she’s been amazing and deeply reassuring as well.

Paying It Forward

I have worked in healthcare law, compliance, and privacy for nearly 17 years, so I arrived at Fox Chase with a critic’s eye. However, I don’t have one negative thing to say. There’s a real patient-centered model at Fox Chase that has trickled down way beyond the clinical team. You never feel like a burden or like you’re asking for too much. Everyone on site, from the clinical teams to food service and maintenance, desk staff, volunteers, and security guards are able to anticipate your needs and go out of their way to make you feel comfortable.

After my experience, it’s important to me to support Fox Chase to help the center maintain and even improve this high standard of care. This is why I’m involved with the Patient and Family Advisory Council and why I’ve volunteered to serve as the 2024 patient ambassador for Paws for the Cause. I am excited to promote this event, which helps raise awareness and funds and brings people together in an active way that has the potential to improve lives.

Learn more about treatment for breast cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center.