Nicole Holtz: Second Opinion on Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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“From the start, I felt like everything at Fox Chase was handled with a team approach.”

— Nicole Holtz

I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in November 2010, after undergoing several biopsies and a lumpectomy at my local hospital. Even with that treatment, I continued to have discharge from my breast, and the surgeon said he had not gotten all of the cancer.

More Treatment

My husband and my sister insisted that I seek treatment at Fox Chase Cancer Center, so I made an appointment with Dr. Elin R. Sigurdson, a surgical oncologist, and with the chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery. They recommended that I have a mastectomy and breast reconstruction. Surgery was scheduled for April 2011.

I was 39 at the time and had two daughters, ages 10 and 8. I worked in my children’s school district as a cafeteria worker, which was a great job because I got to see my girls every day and had days off when they did. I was busy being a mom and didn’t have time to worry about myself.

Positive Experience

My left breast was removed during the mastectomy, as well as several lymph nodes. I opted for the TRAM flap method for reconstruction, which involves the removal of fat, muscle, and blood vessels from the lower abdominal wall and then attaching the blood vessels from the flap to blood vessels in the chest. After the procedure I completed four rounds of combination chemotherapy (cyclophosphamide and doxorubicin) and four rounds of taxol chemotherapy, plus tamoxifen for five years.

I have had nothing but a positive experience at Fox Chase. Besides my incredible team of doctors, the nurses and staff in the infusion room cared for me and calmed me. I found that everyone at Fox Chase genuinely cared about me. They never made me feel like a number.

Metastasized Cancer

In 2016, Zachary Hasse, an advanced practice clinician and physician assistant at Fox Chase, ordered a CT scan when I started having some back pain. The scan detected a tumor on my liver, meaning that my breast cancer had metastasized. I am currently taking letrozole and Ibrance, and I have an injection every six months of a drug that will hopefully keep the cancer from going into my bones. I have CT scans every three months, a bone scan every six months, and blood work every month. Fortunately, there has been no new evidence of disease.

I look at life a lot differently now. Little things don’t upset me like they used to, and I don’t take things for granted. I have joined a support group called METAvivor, and that has been very helpful. The metastatic diagnosis has changed the way I live so much. I travel more. My motto is ‘fake it till you make it,’ so even when I don’t feel well on a particular day, I just act like I feel great and it does wonders!

Best Advice

I have been married to my amazing and extremely supportive husband, Rob, for 14 years, and we have two incredible daughters. Olivia is going be 18 soon, and we are currently searching for the perfect college where she can study speech-language pathology. Madison is 15 and she is starting her sophomore year at William Tennent High School in Warminster, and she will also be attending Middle Bucks Institute of Technology for cosmetology. I just finished up a one-year medical billing course and will soon get my certification as a medical biller. In September 2016, I started my new career with Physicians Endoscopy in Jamison, PA, and I love it.

My advice to anyone recently diagnosed with cancer is to get a second opinion, get a third, and if you are not comfortable with your doctors, move on. This is about you. Laugh a lot, it really is the best medicine. Join a support group or take advantage of different things like Gilda’s Club where you are offered different free classes, such as yoga or reiki.

When people tell me they have been diagnosed with cancer or know someone who has, I just say they have to go to Fox Chase. I have a phenomenal team. If you have breast cancer, that’s where you want to be. Period.

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

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