Beyond the pink ribbons: Methodist Hospitals’ doctors, nurses and staff fight breast cancer every day - March 25, 2015

Courtesy of Post-Tribune

No disease inspires more widespread passion than breast cancer, with people wearing pink and participating in fundraising and educational efforts.

“The breast cancer patient can be a mother, a sister, a wife, or an employee,” explains Laurel Valentino, Methodist Hospitals’ director of Oncology Services. “She can be in her 20s to her 80s. The fact that this disease touches so many people gives it far-reaching implications that impact public awareness and the education of the patient population. It is also a complex disease that varies because of the age spread and different needs of those patients.”

“When it comes to severity, breast cancer is a disease that is not really one entity,” says Dr. Bharat Barai, medical director of Methodist Hospitals Cancer Institute. “There is a wide spectrum of clinical presentation. People particularly need to understand the importance of heredity. Breast cancer is most deadly at a younger age when the patient also has a hereditary component.”

Methodist’s Breast Care Nurse Navigator Stacy Knox points out a fundamental and personal difference between breast and other cancers.

“Our breasts are part of who we are, our self-image and our sexuality,” Knox says.

Next to lung cancer, breast cancer death rates are higher than any other cancer for women in the U.S. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women after skin cancer.

Fortunately, breast cancer incidence rates and death rates have been declining since about 2000.

Barai believes stopping the routine use of hormone replacement therapy has played an important role in this decline.

Another factor is that because of educational efforts, the number of women being screened for breast cancer is growing.

Historically, breast cancer patients diagnosed at Methodist have tended to be at a more advanced stage than the national average.

“That’s improving as screening initiatives have taken effect,” Barai says. “Caught early, 85 percent of cases can be cured and patients lead a normal, healthy life.”

Methodist’s high level of care for breast cancer is comparable to treatment offered at any university hospital system.

“Our patients have access to national clinical trials, a multidisciplinary breast leadership team, and much more,” says Valentino. “Looking at clinical outcomes, we meet or exceed all state and national benchmarks.”

“A recent national study suggested 3-D mammography should be done as routine,” Barai says. “Methodist Hospitals was the leader by two years in bringing this technology to Northwest Indiana.”

As Methodist’s nurse navigator, Knox guides patients from the initial biopsy through the entire treatment process.

“I’m an educator, support person, and also a friend,” Knox says. “My goal is to help them along their journey, cheer them on and remind them of their goals.”

“People have a tendency to believe that their fate is sealed when they hear a diagnosis of breast cancer,” Knox adds. “They need to know more women are beating breast cancer. Every day, women are told they have breast cancer — and everyday, women are told they care cancer-free.”

Methodist Hospitals has three locations: Northlake Campus, 600 Grant St., Gary; Midlake Campus, 2269 W. 25th Ave., Gary; Southlake Campus, 8701 Broadway, Merrillville; as well as numerous physician clinics throughout Northwest Indiana.