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Navigating breast cancer

Posted: October 10, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: October 10, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Breast Health Navigator Mindy Burgess, RN, left, and Sandy Cunanan, breast imaging mamo tech lead, center, prepare a patient for breast imaging at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center on Thursday.

Breast cancer can strike any woman, but seniors are particularly prone.

According to the American Cancer Society, 1 in 8 women is likely to develop breast cancer in her lifetime, and risk increases with age; about 2 of 3 invasive breast cancers are found in women age 55 or older.

That’s why early detection is key and, after a diagnosis, knowing the available treatment options and resources is crucial.

Mindy Burgess, a breast health navigator from Valencia’s Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, will speak about “Breast Cancer Awareness: Facts You Should Know” in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center in Newhall on Wednesday. The presentation is free and open to the community.

“The first fact is that if doctors tell seniors that they don’t need a mammogram, that they’re too old, that’s really not true. Continue getting your mammograms every year,” she said.

According to Burgess, who works out of the hospital’s Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center, she’s currently one of just 35 breast health navigators in California.

“I help the patient navigate through the myriad decisions they’re faced with after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis and help them build a relationship with their professional team,” Burgess said. “I present options about the different types of surgeries and explain things that they don’t even know to ask about. I can also help with financial-support resources, help obtain wigs and bras, and fill them in on things doctors don’t have time to.”

During her lecture, Burgess will cover topics such as breast self-exams, as well as the age of breast cancer treatment and survival rates.

“I have a lot of seniors who are in such fear of just going in for a mammogram, in case they do have cancer,” Burgess said. “When they were younger, women with breast cancer didn’t do well with the disease, and now we’re curing people left and right.”

Statistics from the National Breast Cancer Foundation back this up. When breast cancer is detected early (at a localized stage), the foundation’s website states, the five-year survival rate is 98 percent.

Another area that can confound seniors is dealing with the multitude of technologies involved in today’s health care system.

“Everything is online now, or by phone, and there are long messages and numbers to press. Often patients are put on hold for long periods of time,” Burgess said. “Not all seniors are computer-savvy, so that can be a barrier.”

For cancer patients at Henry Mayo or Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center, Burgess provides not only technical support, but emotional support, as well.

Ruth Ann Moore, of Saugus, a retired accounts payable manager, was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2010. She met Burgess prior to her first surgery.

“I don’t know how many times I went into Mindy’s office and cried on her shoulder,” Moore said. “I’m generally a positive person, but there were times when I was scared about what was going to happen.”

One particularly fearful moment for Moore was having a small medical appliance placed in her chest to receive chemotherapy.

“Mindy was there to tell me what it would look and feel like,” Moore said. “She was always positive, telling me that I was strong and that I could do this. Being a registered nurse, she knows all the technologies and terminology and could answer anything I had a question about. I’m sure I would’ve been a basket case without her.”

Terry Bucknall, director of the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center, said that the breast health navigation program at Henry Mayo is part of its multi-pronged approach to treatment, which also includes a breast cancer tumor board, a multimodality team of physicians and oncology specialists that meets regularly to customize care plans for each patient.

“Once a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, she’s often left in dark, not knowing where to go or what to do first,” she said. “Having a breast health navigator is a huge step in giving her direction and comfort as she goes through the breast cancer journey.”

Burgess will present “Breast Cancer Awareness: Facts You Should Know” at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, 1 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 12, 22900 Market St., Newhall. For more information, call (661) 259-9444. For more information about breast imaging services, or to schedule a mammogram, call the Sheila R. Veloz Breast Imaging Center at (661) 253-8822.


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