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Surrounded by Care: Patient Stories
Tacoma resident Joleen LaMay is known for her energy and positive outlook on life. A Sumner High School Health and Fitness teacher and assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of Puget Sound, Joleen has the will and drive of an athlete. In the last year, these strengths helped her through one of life’s most difficult challenges: cancer.
Now 47, Joleen had her first mammogram at 35. She learned then that her breast tissue was dense and fibrous. She did regular self-exams, but never made it back in for her next routine screening mammogram.
“For 10 years, getting a mammogram stayed on my list of things to do,” Joleen says. Last August, she decided finally to schedule the test. Ironically, just a few days later, she felt a large, hard, alarming mass on her breast as she was getting into the shower. “I Googled it, of course. I knew it could be cancer, but it could be many other things, too.”
Joleen immediately made an appointment with her primary care physician, who was clearly concerned. “My doctor sent me to Carol Milgard Breast Center right away for my mammogram. I still thought it was probably ‘one of those other things’ and not cancer,” she says. “Then I had a second mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy, all at Carol Milgard.”
Then, the results came back. “I remember hearing, ‘this is not the news we wanted to share with you.’ It was August 18. My life changed that day.”
Where to turn, when life takes a turn
After the diagnosis, Joleen asked her nurse to help her choose an oncologist. “I asked who she would want, if it were her, and she told me about Dr. Senecal.”
Frank Senecal, MD, Northwest Medical Specialties, is part of the multidisciplinary team under St. Joseph Medical Center’s breast cancer program. “The crew in that office is absolutely amazing,” Joleen says. “They look after you. They care for you. They are kind-hearted and warm. I often reached out to Dr. Senecal and Debra Morris, ARNP; they were so available to me.”
“It’s such a huge ordeal to be diagnosed with cancer,” Joleen says. “Chemo is scary and difficult and hard to manage. I knew discomfort and physical challenge — I’ve been an athlete all my life. But this was on a whole different level.”
Joleen was grateful to have advanced treatment available close to home; this allowed her to stay at work. “It gave me the ability to continue teaching and coaching throughout my treatment,” Joleen says. “One day I remember going to chemo in the morning and sitting on the bench coaching basketball at Puget Sound that night. The convenience of close to home makes it easier to manage the little things.”
A close friend who had recently completed breast cancer treatment helped her prepare for the unexpected, and her family and friends rallied in countless ways. Joleen didn’t turn to the cancer program’s support groups, but she would have if she’d needed to. “My advice to others going through this is, don’t hold it in. Reach out. You don’t want or have to do it alone. Cancer is too big a monster to do it by yourself.”
Joleen’s treatment lasted nine months — from diagnosis on Aug. 18, to her final radiation treatment on April 20. She’s now cancer-free.
“You feel you won’t get through it, but you do,” she says. “Here I am.”
The value of inclusive care
The breast cancer programs at St. Anthony and St. Francis hospitals and St. Joseph Medical Center are fully accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC). These programs provide the best possible patient care by consistently meeting or exceeding NAPBC’s stringent guidelines and national quality standards. Patients can expect to receive the most advanced treatment options without having to travel outside of the region.
The inclusive care provided at these locations allows women with breast disease to go from screening mammography to a complete diagnostic work-up in one place. While most women will never need the full range of services offered, the few who do have the comfort of knowing they are in the most capable and qualified hands. Multidisciplinary teams of specialists (cancer surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, navigators, and others) collaborate with patients to provide the best possible treatment plan while minimizing the time from finding a breast concern to diagnosis and treatment.