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Suzanne, a breast cancer survivor, thanks her care team at MoBap

Suzanne Braun credits her care team at Missouri Baptist Medical Center and her own diligence with saving her life. Braun, who went through ovarian cancer in her early 20s, said that health crisis impressed upon her the importance of regular doctor visits and an annual mammogram.

She had her regular screening mammogram at the Missouri Baptist Breast HealthCare Center in late April of this year and she knew in her gut she’d have to go back for a diagnostic mammogram.

“I had the diagnostic mammogram,” Braun said. “I remember the doctor coming in and telling me I needed a biopsy.”

She received the diagnosis on May 10. The Breast HealthCare nurse navigator called Braun with the news — invasive ductal breast cancer.

“Lynn was amazing,” Braun said. “She connected me with the surgical, medical and radiation oncologists at MoBap. Within just a few days, I had appointments scheduled with all of these doctors.”

She felt at peace through the entire journey, but admitted it was difficult to process. 

“There were parts that I could understand and picture the term in my mind,” the retired teacher said. “There were other terms that I couldn’t fathom. I’m an educator and I love the word, ‘Why?’”

She didn’t allow herself to look up information on the internet.

“If I had questions, I asked the doctor,” Braun said. “There’s so much out there that is not true, and I wanted the correct information.”

Jason Li, MD, PhD, a hematologist/oncologist on staff at Missouri Baptist, was part of Braun’s team. He praised Braun for her regular mammograms and for living a healthy lifestyle.

“Regular screenings help you detect breast cancer earlier,” Dr. Li said. “And anytime you have cancer, it will be more difficult to treat if you are not healthy or do not exercise regularly.”

The MoBap Cancer Center team uses a multi-disciplinary approach to screen, diagnose and treat patients with breast cancer. This approach is ideal, Dr. Li added. The team includes medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, social workers, nurse coordinators, genetics, and sometimes plastic surgeons. They meet each week to review new cases and discuss what will be best for the patient.

“Every patient is different, and we need to review all of the information together, so the patient knows all of the doctors involved and has the treatment plan,” Dr. Li said. “They will have the next six months planned out, and that’s comforting for the patient.”

Braun’s treatment plan included a double mastectomy and radiation.

“I had so much information, I felt like I was working a 1,000-piece puzzle that was dumped out on the table … that’s what it felt like at the beginning,” she said. “I had to turn all the pieces over, find the edges first and work with the people I knew were smart enough to help me complete the puzzle.”

Braun had the bi-lateral mastectomy in June, followed by 27 sessions of radiation.

“I knew that I needed radiation for sure, because the cancer was in the lymph nodes,” she said. “The radiation was easy, and the people in the radiation/oncology area are so kind and compassionate. Even though I know they have lots of patients who walk through their offices, I always felt like I was the only one.”

Because Braun had 23 lymph nodes removed, she was at high risk for lymphedema, which led her to Kate Felchlia, an occupational therapist at Missouri Baptist.

“I met with Suzanne prior to her surgery, because she was considered high-risk for Lymphedema,” Felchlia said. “We started our regular treatment after surgery. Suzanne also had axillary web syndrome in her armpit and had lost some range-of-motion.”

Axillary web syndrome is a condition that may develop after surgery and treatment for breast cancer, and may include thick or thin bands, or cords, in the armpit. Felchlia said she performed a lot of hands-on soft tissue techniques to stretch those structures back out to help Braun regain her range of motion.

Braun praised the therapists she worked with, saying they were so helpful and encouraging.

“I had been going to the gym prior to my surgery, and I believe that had a lot to do with how I recovered,” she said. “I wanted to go back to the gym, and I’ve been assured I’ll be able to get back to where I was before. It’s slow sometimes, and there’s stuff that’s not fun, but I’m a rule follower, so if you tell me I have to wear a compression sleeve on my arm, I’ll do it. I won’t like it, but I’ll do it. If you follow the rules, you’ll have good results.”

The educator is back to volunteering at the school from which she retired, and she’s giving some thought about how to help current and future breast cancer patients.

“I’m trying to figure out how I can use this experience to teach others,” she said. “And I will harass people about their screening mammograms.”

The Missouri Baptist Breast HealthCare Center has been named a Certified Quality Breast Center of Excellence by the National Consortium of Breast Centers, every year since 2017. This is the highest certification level given by the NCBC's National Quality Measures for Breast Centers Program. Over the past four years, the Missouri Baptist Breast HealthCare Center was the only comprehensive breast center in Missouri to be named a Certified Quality Breast Center of Excellence.

Learn more about the Missouri Baptist Breast HealthCare Center and schedule your mammogram.

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