Donna Balut: Second Opinion on Breast Cancer Leads to Stellar Surgeon

“Dr. Porpiglia was so confident. She was so sure of what she was telling us that her confidence helped me make the decision to have her do my surgery.”
‐Donna Balut

I was just beginning a new chapter of my life when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 at the age of 73.

Several months prior, my husband had passed away after a 12-year fight with prostate cancer. That left me alone in a large home with 13 rooms. Two of my girlfriends encouraged me to move to an apartment complex for seniors in Pittston, Pennsylvania, about two hours north of Philadelphia.

As I settled into life there, I switched family doctors. I went in for a check-up after having spent several years not paying enough attention to my own health as I cared for my husband. As part of my check-up, my doctor sent me for a bone density scan and a mammogram.

My bones were fine, but my mammogram showed several suspicious spots in my left breast. Shortly after I was diagnosed with a type of breast cancer known as invasive lobular carcinoma.

Seeking a Second Opinion

I was seeing an oncologist locally and my daughter and I spoke with the oncologist to go over the information from my breast biopsy and to make arrangements to have a mastectomy. After we met with the doctor, a nurse coordinator mentioned to me that I had every right to look for a second opinion if I wanted to. One of the places on the list of names she gave us was Fox Chase Cancer Center.

I found out that Fox Chase used EPIC electronic medical records and that was part of the reason that I chose to go there. My local doctors used EPIC and I wanted to stay within a network where people would be able to read my chart no matter where I went. I was pleasantly surprised when we went online and I was able to get an appointment for just a few days later!

The day of my first appointment we took the ride to Fox Chase and met with Dr. Andrea Porpiglia, a surgical oncologist. Dr. Porpiglia was so confident. She was so sure of what she was telling us that her confidence helped me make the decision to have her do my surgery.

I chose to undergo a double mastectomy. I did not want something hanging over my head, and my three daughters had just watched their father pass away from cancer, so I wanted to play it as safe as possible.

I also opted not to undergo reconstruction after the surgery. I was bound and determined to get over this and I didn’t want my recovery to be any longer than it had to be. Fortunately, my surgery was a success.

Ongoing Care

As part of my ongoing treatment I will have to take anastrozole, a drug type of drug known as an estrogen blocker, every day for the next five years. When I first started the medication I was having very bad hot flashes, so my doctor added a nerve blocker called gabapentin to my regimen and the exhausting hot flashes stopped. As a bonus, a lot of my knee pain went away too!

My doctors also advised me to have genetic testing done after my diagnosis. I felt it was very important for my daughters and nieces to know if my cancer was genetic. The doctors said that my cancer was a type often found in older women and was not genetic. Even so, my diagnosis prompted all of my daughters and nieces to go for mammograms.

I still go for regular follow-up appointments with my local oncologist and with Dr. Porpiglia. The last time I saw her she said everything looked like it was healing fine. I am Dr. Porpiglia’s greatest cheerleader. When I go for my check-ups and she walks into the room, I applaud. She has paid such close attention to me and has given me wonderful care while I am at Fox Chase.

My doctors continue to keep an eye on me, but I feel like I am in better health now than before my diagnosis. I am able to care for myself, and I am more involved in my senior community.

My care at Fox Chase has been excellent, so much so that I tell my neighbors and acquaintances about Fox Chase.

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