Carol Rech regularly took charge to ensure that her four sisters had their yearly mammograms at the Jacqueline M. Wilentz Comprehensive Breast Center at Monmouth Medical Center.
“I would make sure we all scheduled appointments for the same day,” she said. “We would go to our appointments at Monmouth and then go to lunch.”
A former employee of Monmouth Medical Center, Carol always made it a point to use doctors and services associated with the hospital. As a result, it was at the Jacqueline M. Wilentz Comprehensive Breast Center that Carol was diagnosed with stage IIIC breast cancer in October 2006.
According to Carol, when she got the news, she was shell-shocked.
“You don’t know what to do or what questions to ask, but at Monmouth, they bring in a social worker for you to talk to and help you find a surgeon, a plastic surgeon and an oncologist,” she said. “The system the Wilentz Center has is so supportive and informative. From diagnosis to surgery and through treatment, Monmouth Medical Center is the gold standard for care and treatment of breast cancer patients.”
In the months following Carol’s diagnosis, she scheduled a bilateral mastectomy and began chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Although there was no history of breast cancer in the family, Carol’s diagnosis raised a red flag for her sisters. Each woman, including Carol, made an appointment with genetic counselor Sherry Grumet the High Risk Cancer Program at Monmouth’s Leon Hess Cancer to assess her risk of getting the disease.
Just six months after Carol’s diagnosis and shortly after the genetic counseling meetings, Carol’s sister Patti Dickens was diagnosed with stage IIb breast cancer.
According to Patti, it was Carol’s diagnosis and an increased awareness of breast cancer that saved her life.
“I went for my annual mammogram, and everything appeared fine,” she said. “A few days later, I received a letter stating that there was a shadow on the left side and requesting that I return for new view. That very night, as I scratched my right side, I felt something. When I returned for the second mammogram, I asked them to look at the right side as well – it was a new finding and I was almost immediately diagnosed.”
Patti continued, “Carol saved my life. If she had not already been diagnosed, I would have ignored a new finding because three days prior I had a normal mammogram.”
The genetic tests and her sisters’ diagnoses convinced youngest sister Joan to take action.
“After Carol had been diagnosed, the likelihood that I would be diagnosed with breast cancer in my life time was 42 percent. After Patti was diagnosed, my numbers jumped up to more than 70 percent,” Joan said.
Joan decided to reduce her risk by opting for a double prophylactic mastectomy, which is the surgical removal of both breasts to prevent or reduce the occurrence of breast cancer in women who are at high risk of developing the disease.
In October 2007, one full year after Carol began her fight with breast cancer, Patti and Joan were fighting their own battles against the disease.
“We had our surgeries on the same day,” Joan said.” I went in first and saw Dr. Mark Schwartz for my double prophylactic mastectomy and then went in for reconstructive surgery with Dr. Peter Hetzler. Patti followed right after me with her bilateral mastectomy.”
The sisters all agree that the care they received at the Jacqueline M. Wilentz Comprehensive Breast Center at Monmouth Medical Center made the difference in their diagnosis and treatment.
“I only met Dr. Yasmeen Shariff (one of the Wlient’z Center dedicated breast imagers) once – the day she diagnosed me,” Patti said. “But from that one time I could tell she was the most amazing person – she stayed with me and she cried with me. The compassion of the staff, nurses and doctors in the breast center was remarkable.”
Today, Carol and Patti are in remission and Joan is cancer free. As a result of their experiences, they share their stories and help other breast cancer patients and survivors through Breast Intentions (formerly Breast Friends Forever), a non-profit started by Carol’s daughter, NAME, and the sisters’ nephew, NAME, after they witnessed their family’s fight with the disease.
Breast Intentions, formerly Breast Friends Forever, serves as a crisis intervention service to support individuals and their families who have been diagnosed with and are fighting breast cancer deal with the consequences of the diagnosis by providing emotional, intellectual, spiritual and financial support and resources in their time of need. For more information on Breast Intentions, visit www.breastintentions.org.
To learn more about the services offered at the Jacqueline M. Wilentz Comprehensive Breast Center, call 732-923-7700.
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