Words of a Breast Cancer Survivor: You Aren’t Going to Break

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October 18, 2021


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Living in Boca Raton and working for a real estate developer in Miami, Lee Ann Ryan has a busy career and puts some mileage on her car. So when she first felt a pain in one of her breasts in August of 2018, she blamed it on having large, lumpy breasts, brushed it off and continued on with her life. Four months later, when she noticed a change in the appearance of her breast, she knew she shouldn’t delay another minute.

 “I have a mammogram every year ― or so I thought,” Ms. Ryan said. “But when I finally went in, the doctor was like, ‘You haven’t been in here for two years.’ “ On Jan. 12, 2019, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

And so began her journey of specialists and treatment. When her ob/gyn referred her to Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, a part of Baptist Health South Florida, she had second thoughts. Single and in her late 40s, she knew many women turned to the hospital when they were expecting a baby. But for cancer care?

Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital

Friends recommended Lynn Cancer Institute

“I was concerned, so I investigated. I called some friends who had previous experience there and they explained that Lynn was the best place to be. My parents were here, I was comfortable with the doctors and I liked the facility,” she said. In particular, she found the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute, with its pink robes and bright, open spaces, calming and friendly.

Immediately, she met with the experts at Lynn Cancer Institute’s Multimodality Clinic. In one visit, she talked individually with a team that included a medical oncologist, a breast surgeon, a radiation oncologist, a geneticist and others. “I felt like it was putting the best minds together to collectively come up with a plan.”

Joseph A. Colletta, M.D., breast surgeon with the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Health & Wellness Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital

The Clinic does bring the team together, said breast surgeon Joseph Colletta, M.D., but it also helps patients through what can be a difficult process.  “Patients like Lee Ann would otherwise need to make individual appointments, on different days and in different places, with all of the specialists they need to see. Time is of the essence when it comes to cancer. Patients are often anxious. Navigating the healthcare system on their own can be difficult. The Clinic is convenient and puts the focus where it should be ― on the patient.”

When discussing her family history with the genetics counselor, Ms. Ryan realized that the oldest child of each of her mother’s siblings had been diagnosed with some form of cancer. Genetic testing, however, revealed no known mutations linked to hereditary cancer. At the Morgan Pressel Center for Cancer Genetics at Lynn Cancer Institute a patient database means that as mutations are discovered in the future, patients can be alerted and further testing, if necessary, can be conducted. Inherited genetic mutations play a role in just up to 10 percent of cancers, however.

Treatment and beyond

David P. Bogue, M.D., reconstructive surgeon at Boca Raton Regional Hospital

Ms. Ryan began chemotherapy in February of 2019. She experienced few side effects and was able to drive herself to and from appointments and continue to work throughout treatment. Chemo was followed by a bilateral mastectomy, performed by Dr. Collettta. At the same time, Boca Raton Regional Hospital reconstructive surgeon  David Bogue, M.D., placed breast expanders. She was in the hospital overnight. After Ms. Ryan completed radiation therapy, he finished the reconstructive surgery. She continues to take medication to reduce the risk of recurrence.

“Through it all, the healthcare team was compassionate and wonderful ― from the valet to the nurses to the PAs to the physicians,” Ms. Ryan said. She also took advantage of special services Lynn Cancer Institute offered, including acupuncture and foot massages. She also took part in the Be U Tiful program, which was designed to support women during and after cancer treatment. “It was like summer camp. As busy as you are fighting the disease, it’s good to experience these things.”

A survivor’s words

Ms. Ryan credits her family and her book club, which just celebrated its 15th year together, for helping her become a breast cancer survivor. In the two and a half years since her diagnosis, she has also given back, becoming a mentor to other patients. “I think they find it reassuring to know that if they ask me a question, I will give them an honest answer.” Ms. Ryan said she also offers them the advice Dr. Bogue offered her: “You aren’t going to break. He was right. Stay strong.”

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