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A Story Of Survivorship

Susan McClure's Journey

Posted on September 29, 2014 and filed under StoriesVideos.

When Susan McClure was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 47 in 2009, she learned quickly that she would not be alone in her journey. At the Breast Center at Saint Agnes Hospital, McClure had a team of professionals working with her through treatment and recovery. Today, as an active member of the hospital’s breast cancer support group, McClure has another team she describes as “four very new, very close, best friends,” all of whom are breast cancer survivors. They call themselves “Bosom Buddies.”

The first concerns about McClure’s health emerged when she discovered thickening in her breast and then visited her Ob/Gyn.  She was referred for a mammogram and ultrasound and then had a biopsy at the Breast Center at Saint Agnes Hospital.  ”From the beginning, the people there were wonderful,” she remembered. Her team-an oncologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist, nurse navigator,  American Cancer Society representative and plastic surgeon-joined together to meet with her to explain what to expect and describe the range of services. As nurse navigator Mary Ellen Bilenki, RN, MS, OCN, pointed out, at Saint Agnes, the patient is part of her own healthcare team.  After eight rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, McClure had a mastectomy. She later had reconstructive surgery, also at Saint Agnes Hospital.

Reaching Beyond Traditional Medical Care
McClure’s sons were 3 and 9 years old at the time of her diagnosis. The Cancer Society representative provided exceptional materials to explain cancer to children. Her older son Zachary attended the Kids Camp for children of breast cancer patients. The children tour the Breast Center, visit the chemo rooms (even sit in the pink chairs) and learn about the disease and treatment. Although reluctant at first, Zach appreciated the experience so much that he attended a second session and helped the new children.

McClure started attending the Stepping Stones support group after tests indicated the cancer might have spread to her breastbone. Stepping Stones is a free program in which patients in all stages of breast cancer meet to share experiences, gain information and support one another. Although further testing determined that the cancer had not spread, McClure was thankful to increase her network of friends, including a woman who was diagnosed on the same day as she. The Breast Center sponsors “Healing through the Arts,” a program through which participants mold clay, paint with watercolors and even participate in drumming circles. Bilenki noted that the arts help patients find inner peace. Rather than focusing on the effects of cancer, they have a chance to create and express themselves. McClure said participating made her feel energized and powerful. The friendships are life-affirming.

Celebrating the Power of Pink
McClure completed her treatments in September and today is feeling, as she says, “normal.” The ongoing support of the Breast Center, from periodic exams with specialists to the Stepping Stones group, keeps her focused on continued healing and quality of life.

McClure and her son recently participated in the Saint Agnes “Cancer Survivor Dance” video.  To promote diagnostic testing, the Cancer Center produced this video starring more than 200 cancer survivors and their families. Wearing a bright pink T-shirt, McClure celebrated with others who have gratefully traded the term “patient” for “survivor.”  The Breast Center at Saint Agnes is a  nationally accredited program dedicated to bringing the full team of specialists together with the patient to explain the process, providing them with a personalized and complete treatment plan from the start.

For more information about the Breast Center at Saint Agnes Hospital, click here or call 410-368-3434.


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