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Carol Hess - Patient Story

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"I chose Fox Chase because they 'deal with cancer all day everyday,' however, the emotional support that accompanied the advanced treatments was more than I expected."

— Carol Hess, Breast Patient

In the fall of 2006, I was caring for my two young children, who were one year old and three years old at the time, and working for the Navy in the field of civil engineering technology. My department is responsible for supporting the launch and recovery systems for aircraft used on aircraft carriers. I was active and went running, took yoga classes, and enjoyed mountain biking, boating, and gardening.

During my monthly breast self-exam, I discovered a suspicious mass in my left breast. I called my doctor and scheduled a mammogram. A few days later, with my husband by my side, I received the news that I had stage II invasive ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ. I took the news in stride and remained positive.

I looked on the Internet to research hospitals for breast cancer treatment. Because my children were so young, I knew there was no time to delay. After completing my research, I landed at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. I found comfort knowing that the Center’s sole focus is cancer. Initially, I chose Fox Chase because they deal with cancer all day every day; however, the emotional support that accompanied the advanced treatments was more than I expected.

I immediately took action, made a plan, and set up a support team. I knew my treatment was going to slow me down, but I always remained positive. With the advanced care from Fox Chase, my family, and my friends, I wasn’t going to let my diagnosis and treatment adversely affect my children.

I first underwent a radical mastectomy, performed by Elin Sigurdson, MD, PhD, FACS, an oncologic surgeon at Fox Chase. Once I recovered from surgery, I met with Neal Topham, MD, FACS, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Fox Chase. Dr. Topham performed my breast reconstruction surgery using a free TRAM flap using my abdominal tissue to reconstruct the breast.

After my initial meeting with Dr. Topham, I knew I would be OK. I realized how blessed I was to be in the care of the nation’s top doctors. Also, the emotional support that continues to this day from Dr. Topham and the staff at Fox Chase is astonishing.

The nurses at Fox Chase were superb during my hospital stay following surgery. They were attentive and paid close attention to details, which I appreciated as a patient.

Following surgery, I underwent chemotherapy to prevent the cancer from recurring. My care team was supportive and optimistic, and I sensed how much the staff at Fox Chase sincerely cares about their patients.

Going through treatment wasn’t always easy, but during this time, I still took care of my two young children and continued to work. I live in New Jersey and traveled one to one and half hours each way to get to Fox Chase for treatment. Fox Chase provided hope, and my overall good nature never faltered.

Within my first year of treatment, I participated and completed a half marathon (13.1 miles) and took second place in a 5K race. Whatever the challenges were, whether it was the side effects from chemotherapy or an upcoming medical exam, I faced them with courage.

With the support and encouragement I received from the doctors, nurses, staff, family, friends, and fellow patients, I remained positive and energetic. I never let negative feelings take control nor did I stop living my life.

Knowing the importance of keeping on top of things and being my own advocate, I continue to have regular mammograms and perform a monthly breast self-exam. In January 2011, I discovered a small lump in my right breast. I called Fox Chase right away, and they scheduled my appointment immediately.

The small lump turned out to be a different type of breast cancer. I felt confident knowing that the team at Fox Chase thoroughly discussed my case and arrived at a surgical solution. I underwent a lumpectomy to remove the lump and surrounding tissue and now have no evidence of disease. Thanks to the caring and skilled doctors at Fox Chase, I remain cancer-free and energetic as ever. I will continue enjoying to live my life.

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