Breast Cancer Treatment Focuses on Physical and Emotional Health
The date of October 6, 2017 is burned into Dalila Campos’ mind.
“I will never forget it,” the now 43-year-old from Olney, Maryland says. “It was a Friday and I suddenly felt something in my left breast—a needle-like pain.”
Her mammogram six months earlier was clear, so Dalila wasn’t initially concerned. But when the pain returned the next day, she went straight to her doctor.
Her Ob/Gyn felt a possible cyst and referred her for an ultrasound. During that exam, the technician zeroed in on a specific spot. “I knew something was wrong and started crying before the doctor even came in and said there was a mass,” Dalila recalls.
A biopsy revealed she has HER2-positive invasive ductal carcinoma, an aggressive form of breast cancer. She was referred to MedStar Montgomery Medical Center for surgery and treatment. “I was devastated, in shock, and so scared,” Dalila says. “I called to tell all my family in Ecuador and everyone was so sad. They said, ‘You are so young. How did this happen?’”
The answer? Hereditary factors. Doctors discovered this because MedStar Montgomery performs genetic tests on breast cancer patients using nationally recognized guidelines. Dalila tested positive for the BRCA gene, a mutation that causes an increased cancer risk. She opted for a full mastectomy and removal of her ovaries and began a full year of chemotherapy that caused her to lose her hair and left her emotionally depleted.
Dalila, a mother of two, felt scared that her cancer might cut her time with her family short. “It’s been very hard,” she bravely admits.
Her doctors have worked hard to help Dalila combat her fear and anxiety and say that is a vitally important part of all breast cancer treatment plans.
“A breast cancer diagnosis is unexpected and comes with many questions—so our priority is treating the whole patient, well beyond the cancer,” explains Dawn Johnson Leonard, MD, site director of the MedStar Breast Health Program at MedStar Montgomery. “Patients may be stressed about childcare, transportation, employment, finances, their health long-term, or even how to tell their families. We assess everyone’s stress levels and causes; and have tools, resources, and people to help.”
Dr. Leonard says her medical team believes that fully educating patients about their diagnoses and options helps too. “It’s important for patients to know they have a sense of control and that they are a partner with us in their care,” Dr. Leonard explains. “The best and most powerful tool we have is knowledge. That is how we make sure we are offering the right treatment in the right order to give the best chance of recovery.”
Dalila says the team at MedStar Montgomery is definitely helping her work through her worry. “The care is the best I can imagine and the doctors have brought us so much calm.”
She and her fiancé, Nico—who has stood by her side every step of the way and even shaved his head when she lost her hair–now understand her cancer is stage 1 and hasn’t spread to her lymph nodes. Dalila will be closely monitored for other types of cancers for which the BRCA gene puts her at risk. Her sons will be, too, since they now know this increased cancer risk runs in the family.
“It is a true miracle I found this so I can fight it,” Dalila says. “If I had waited until my next scheduled mammogram, this could have been more advanced or spread. Now I can focus on being a survivor. I tell my sons, ‘I will be here for you for many, many years.’”