Young pathologist survives breast cancer – with her sense of humor intact

Erin, a vivacious, green-eyed 40-something was on her way to the top. She was a pathologist – a doctor who diagnoses cancer and helps to guide patient therapy – and she had applied for a new position at Roche Tissue Diagnostics, a leading cancer diagnostics company. She got the job. She got the low-down on the local team’s purpose: to improve the lives of all patients afflicted with cancer. And she got her annual mammogram.

Erin’s mammogram said she did not have any invasive tumors.

She did.

She wished her tumor was benign.

It wasn’t.

She told herself she would still feel sexy lugging a clumsy, clanging IV pole down the hall at the cancer center.

She didn’t.

Analytical by nature, Erin carefully examined every step in her cancer journey – but she was confident in three things: the power of laughter, the evolving practice of medicine, and the advanced diagnosis and personalized treatment plan that gave her a fighting chance.

 

Instead of “Why me,” ask “What’s next?“

“I never stopped to ask, ‘why me?’” Erin said in a recent interview. “I asked, ‘what’s next?’ The fact is, women don’t bring breast cancer on themselves. Yes, we should live responsibly; we should actively care for our health. But most breast cancer comes down to genetics, biological breakdowns and – sometimes – just plain bad luck.” Any woman can get breast cancer. But every woman can fight it, too – and the majority beat it. We have to put our best energy in the path forward: precise diagnostics and well-targeted therapies.

 

Know your breasts – and the tests

Breast cancer is not one-size-fits all – it is many complex diseases. Knowing your enemy is the first step toward defeating it, and Erin was determined to understand absolutely everything about her cancer. High quality VENTANA BenchMark breast cancer tests revealed Erin’s diagnosis: triple-positive (ER+, PR+, HER2+) breast cancer – and this meant that her therapy would include a multi-faceted treatment plan. The plan was elegant, but it wasn’t easy.

Erin refused to surrender to cancer, but she surrendered confidently to her care – three surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and treatment with three different drugs, each custom fit to her unique biology. “Targeted” breast cancer therapies target a woman’s specific cancer with precision and – because they are specially designed to match the patient’s unique biology, they often improve outcomes.

“The hardest part was the wait between surgeries,” Erin admitted. “I wanted to spend less time waiting for answers and more time fighting my disease.” Fortunately, her tests were delivered quickly and provided the level of diagnostic insight her oncologist needed to confidently direct her therapy. For more reasons than she could have imagined when she interviewed, Erin was thankful to work at Roche during her battle with cancer. Access to technologies that boosted her confidence – and benefits that included consultations with independent breast experts – made all the difference.

“In many ways,” Erin said, “I really feel that Roche saved my life.”

Endorphins, employment & inspiration

After a fight that lasted a year and a half, Erin wears only two signs of her battle with breast cancer: a tiny scar near her collarbone where her port was recently removed – and a big, mischievous smile. “I kept my sense of humor too,” she added, “and that kept me going.” She looks amazing – healthy and happy – and we told her so. “That’s another funny thing about surviving cancer,” she said. “Suddenly, everyone tells you how great you look.”

Back at work, Erin pushes her hair out of her eyes and peers into her microscope, reviewing hundreds of pathology slides a week – and she takes cancer personally. She is determined to help as many women as possible do what she has done: learn the facts about her unique biology and breast cancer type – and find confidence in the right diagnosis and therapy. As a doctor, and a survivor, Erin knows that we can turn the tide in cancer.

 

Strength in numbers

In the US, cancer death rates have dropped 23% since 1991, due in part to improving diagnostics. This translates to 1.7 million lives saved from 1991-2012.1 Next time this data is taken, Erin will be one of the survivors counted among thousands of strong women and men: living proof that we are making progress.

Her message? Laughing is much healthier than worrying. Better breast cancer testing is the first step in better care, and better outcomes. Ask a lot of questions – because in breast cancer, knowledge is power. Don’t take yourself too seriously – though if you work in the cancer field, take your work very seriously – it changes lives.

1) “Cancer Death Rate Continues Steady Drop.” American Cancer Society. Cancer.org. 7 Jan. 2016


Learn more about how Roche Tissue Diagnostics helps Erin and strong women everywhere fight cancer:

www.ventana.com/breast

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Breast cancer disease state

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