Life

Breast Cancer Survivor Says Support Group Is the ‘Best Medicine’

Year after year, Andrea Jacobson never missed a mammogram. Until she moved to Florida in 2010. All of a sudden, she realized that two years had passed since her last screening. Still, she never expected the news she received. At her appointment, a radiologist came out and told her she was 99 percent sure she had cancer.

“I had no symptoms. I had no family history of cancer,” the Boynton Beach resident said. “I was crying hysterically. I said, ‘You mean, you’re 99 percent sure it’s not malignant, right?’”

A biopsy a few days later confirmed Ms. Jacobson had HER2-positive breast cancer, a type of cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. The protein promotes the growth of cancer cells. Up to 20 percent of breast cancers are HER2-positive, according to the American Cancer Society.

In November 2012, Ms. Jacobson underwent a lumpectomy performed by Joseph Colletta, M.D., with Baptist Health Lynn Cancer Institute. She went home the same day and was thankful that lymph node removal showed the cancer hadn’t spread. She wouldn’t need chemotherapy.

Next steps

Genetic testing, particularly important because of Ms. Jacobson’s Ashkenazi Jewish heritage (a group at increased risk of breast cancer and other diseases), came back negative for known genetic mutations.

Joseph Colletta, M.D., breast surgeon at Baptist Health Lynn Cancer Institute

Surgery was followed by seven weeks of radiation, every day, Monday through Friday.

“Dr. Benda, my radiation oncologist, was wonderful. She was extremely caring, she listened, she knew my feelings,” Ms. Jacobson said. “When it was time for me to stop seeing Dr. Benda, I didn’t want to stop. I felt as long as I was there, I was going to be okay. Those people were like angels.”

Radiation took its toll, however, leaving Ms. Jacobson exhausted and in pain. It was Dr. Benda who suggested she see a Lynn Cancer Institute massage therapist, who alleviated the pain in her back.

Rashmi Benda, M.D., radiation oncologist with Baptist Health Lynn Cancer Institute

“Every patient reacts differently to treatment,” said Rashmi Benda, M.D. “It’s very important that we listen to their concerns. In Andrea’s case, as with many patients, the broad services that a cancer center like Lynn can offer makes it easier for patients to get the help they need, whether it’s a physician subspecialist, counseling from a nutritionist, physical therapy, a support group or services such as meditation and acupuncture.”

Support group “best medicine”

Dr. Benda also thought Ms. Jacobson would benefit from talking to others going through treatment and referred her to Darci McNally, director of oncology support services at the Institute, who facilitates the breast cancer support group program.

“I wanted somebody private to talk to. I didn’t want to go to a support group where everyone would talk about their problems,” Ms. Jacobson said, recalling how she resisted. “But Darci was persuasive. I thought, okay, I’ll go just once. Turns out I loved it.”

The middle-aged Ms. Jacobson was matched with the perfect group, she said. It was filled with more mature women who were very active, like her.

“Everybody’s cancer is different,” she said. “But when you share what you are going through, others help you get through the tough times. I believe everyone should try a support group. It was the best medicine.” She also made lifelong friends there.

Today, 10 years from her diagnosis, she never misses a mammogram. Ms. Jacobson feels wonderful, is enjoying life and loves visiting her son and two grandchildren who live out of state.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.