Julie Grant remembers the fun she had celebrating her last breast cancer radiation session. A little over a year ago, she rang the bell in NCH Cancer Services (a long-held tradition to mark the completion of treatment), then went home to find surprises from friends and neighbors.
“Pink balloons were lining my driveway and a big pink poster was there,” Julie says.
The 61-year-old Woodstock resident celebrated further by taking a cruise with her husband Marty, a retired hospital pharmacist, who supported her decision to make the hour-plus drive to Arlington Heights to receive care at the NCH Breast Center. The cruise also served to honor the couple’s 35th wedding anniversary a year later since she was going through treatment at the time.
“We said, ‘we’re going to celebrate the right way by going on this trip,’" Julie recalls. “We’re also celebrating breast cancer survivorship.”
Just after diagnosis, Julie learned that her nearly 50-mile commute to NCH for a lumpectomy followed by four weeks of radiation treatment was not uncommon. In her own subdivision, a tight-knit community where many learned of her breast cancer, she discovered two of her neighbors had traveled that far to be treated at NCH for breast cancer as well. They were strong survivors who could help her through the process, share their own experiences and confirm that NCH was the right place for her to receive care.
“Even though it was many years ago, they were obviously very happy with their care,” Julie says. “They’re doing well and they had nothing but wonderful things to say.”
From suspicion to confirmation
Though she didn’t feel a lump or pain, Julie was considered an at-risk patient because of an underlying breast condition and dense breast tissue. She had undergone a biopsy years prior by a Tinley Park radiologist (where she lived at the time) and he recommended she find a dedicated breast center. Coincidentally, Julie’s husband Marty was commuting by train with his friend, who just happened to be the fiancé of NCH Breast Cancer Patient Navigator Christine Masonick. Julie was encouraged to visit NCH.
“Christine was so kind, along with the nurses, the technicians, Dr. Stephen Nigh and Dr. Allyson Jacobson,” Julie says. “Everyone was very gentle, compassionate and very detailed about making sure they had all the information they needed to do the best job they could.”
Dr. Jacobson explained all of the tests Julie underwent, which included a mammogram, a needle biopsy, ultrasound and an MRI. It was determined on biopsy that Julie had an early-stage breast cancer called Ductal Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS) with micro invasion.
“Her cancer was found at a very early stage when it is most curable and treatable, and often requires less overall treatment,” Dr. Jacobson says. “DCIS occurs in about 60,000 women per year, and by definition it is non-invasive. When micro invasion is found, as in Julie’s case, it is the very earliest stages of becoming invasive cancer.”
Julie says she was shocked to receive the diagnosis but that Marty supported her.
Dr. Jacobson performed a lumpectomy on Julie on September 15, 2017 followed by 16 radiation sessions and five targeted treatments (called a boost) due to a close margin, under the care of Dr. Stephen Nigh.
“She didn’t require any systemic therapy (chemotherapy) due to having such an early stage tumor,” Dr. Nigh says.
“Julie is one of those patients who left a lasting impression on the staff and me,” Dr. Nigh says. “She’s positive, upbeat and an advocate for others. She’s a perfect example of why getting a screening mammogram each year is important because we can find the cancer at the earliest possible and most curable stage.”
Miles and smiles
Neighbors quickly gathered to support Julie, creating a calendar so they could sign up to drive her and prepare meals.
“Virtually every day I had a different neighbor drive me to NCH and drive me home,” Julie says. “They brought food, flowers, cards and great support.”
Julie felt so supported, she was able to continue working as a volunteer for the Woodstock Fine Arts Association on the social committee.
Today, Julie considers herself an NCH Breast Center spokesperson. With her marketing background, she sprang into action with positive Facebook posts and even volunteered to speak at the NCH Breast Health Brunch and Learn held earlier this month at Maggiano’s in Schaumburg.
“I am thrilled to shout that it has been one year, and all is clear one year later,” Julie wrote in a recent post. “Thank you, Northwest Community Hospital/Healthcare.”
To schedule your mammogram and learn more about NCH’s Breast Center visit nch.org/breasthealth or call 847-618-BREAST.