Ken Caryl resident, Dana, found the diagnosis overwhelming but found strength with the help of her nurse navigator
With a family history of breast cancer, Dana Bindner has been faithful about getting her annual mammogram. At 64, the exam had become routine for her. But this year, the ‘routine’ was interrupted when Dana’s team found something concerning. The findings led to a second mammogram and that led to a biopsy. The biopsy revealed they had, in fact, found cancer. “They caught it very early, so it was a stage 0,” Dana explains. “But it also was labeled a grade 3, which is the highest given, so that part made me nervous. I didn’t know how fast it would grow.”
What came next is what Dana describes as a blur. “I remember I had about 15 different appointments within a three-week period,” she recalls. “But they connected me with a navigator, which was awesome. She walked me through everything I needed to know.”
The diagnosis and treatment planning process can be overwhelming for even the most well-versed in cancer care. Understanding that, the team at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Swedish Medical Center provides an experienced nurse navigator for each patient diagnosed with cancer. Acting as a single go-to resource for questions, appointment scheduling and support, nurse navigators guide patients through diagnosis and treatment journey.
“But they connected me with a navigator, which was awesome. She walked me through everything I needed to know.”
Dana’s navigator, Natalie, helped bring a practical, compassionate point of view. “She just kind of becomes your best friend for cancer, especially at the very beginning,” Dana explains. “I called her a lot and asked her many questions about the biopsies and the MRIs and what to expect next. She helped to organize appointments and the surgery itself – she was my point person; I called, and she would tell me what to do.”
One of the appointments that Natalie helped Dana organize was a single meeting with three cancer experts: a breast surgeon, Dr. Rosemary Morgan; a medical oncologist, Dr. Jing Xi and a radiation oncologist, Dr. Benjamin Fischer-Valuck. Dana recalls that the team presented her with several options and ultimately, she chose to go with a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. The team explained that, while this option was the most invasive, it also would be the most effective and would not require additional chemotherapy or radiation. “If I’d had a lumpectomy, for example, I would have needed radiation, but this would take everything out,” she explains.
Once her reconstructive surgeon was selected and coordinated, the date for surgery was set. “The surgery lasted about seven hours and when I woke up, I was able to go home to recover,” Dana details. “I stayed with my daughter for the first four nights, and we were able to go for walks twice a day. I just needed to be sure not to get my heart rate up past a certain point.”
Now, about a month after her surgery, Dana is feeling great. A retired grade-school teacher, she enjoys staying active. While running and lifting at the gym have to wait until she’s healed further, she already is back to hiking in the foothills near her home. She’s also looking forward to getting back into her garden and to her part-time retirement retail job.
With a grown son and daughter, Dana believes she was “really lucky” that the cancer was caught at such an early stage. But she also recognizes the importance of keeping up with regular doctor’s appointments and screening tests. “This is something that can be very curable when it’s caught early,” she encourages. “Check with your parents and find out if there is a genetic component or history in your family and talk to your doctor about what screenings are best for you.”
Find more information about breast cancer care at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Swedish Medical Center.