HER2-positive breast cancer survivor: I believe in MD Anderson

Jennifer Smith didn’t come to MD Anderson first for her breast cancer treatment, but she wishes she had. After she’d undergone treatment at a hospital closer to her Florida home, her co-workers suggested she come to MD Anderson for surgery for her HER2-positive breast cancer.

“At first, I didn’t think I needed to come here, but my friends told me to because MD Anderson is the best in the world,” Jennifer says. “Now I fly in for my MRIs and everything else.”

Less breast cancer surgery, more personalized care

During her first visit to MD Anderson, Jennifer met with breast cancer surgeon Kelly Hunt, M.D., to learn about her breast cancer surgery options. Right away, Hunt’s confidence and steady manner put Jennifer at ease. Hunt explained that her team had spotted another cancerous lump that Jennifer’s original medical team had missed because her dense breasts made her scans difficult to read. With the new scans providing a better understanding of exactly what tissue was affected by the cancer, Hunt and Jennifer began to discuss her surgery options.

If possible, Jennifer only wanted to have the necessary lymph nodes removed. Hunt told her about sentinel lymph node surgery, a technique in which surgeons only remove the lymph nodes that are most likely to contain cancer if the cancer has spread. This prevents unnecessary removal of additional lymph nodes and reduces the risk of lymphedema, a side effect of breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy that causes arm swelling and an increased risk of infection. Years before Jennifer’s surgery, Hunt had co-led a landmark study that helped to make sentinel node surgery a standard treatment for breast cancer patients worldwide.

Jennifer was also interested in breast-conserving surgery, rather than a complete mastectomy. Working with plastic surgeon Mark Clemens, M.D., Hunt devised a plan to effectively remove the cancer, while keeping with Jennifer’s specific wishes.

“I never felt pressured to have a surgery that I wasn’t comfortable with,” Jennifer says.

On Aug. 20, 2014, she had a lumpectomy, sentinel lymph node dissection and immediate breast reconstruction surgery. Hunt performed the first two parts of the procedure, then Clemens performed the reconstruction using tissue from Jennifer’s underarm.

“I liked the fact that it was all me,” Jennifer says. Jennifer was discharged just a few hours after surgery. She went out to lunch with friends the very next day.

“My recovery went really well,” Jennifer says. “I run my own business and didn’t miss a beat.”

Finding support and staying positive

Throughout her breast cancer treatment, Jennifer stayed positive and relied on her friends’ support.

“I had an incredible support group of female friends,” Jennifer says. “I was lucky. I had friends that would fly back and forth to MD Anderson with me.”

She also appreciated the breast cancer survivors who volunteered in MD Anderson’s Nellie B. Connally Breast Center.

“I loved the fact that there were ladies in the back who’d actually been through cancer that would sit with you and talk with you,” Jennifer says.

Now she’s following these volunteers’ example and offering support and advice to others diagnosed with breast cancer. She recently recommended that a friend come to MD Anderson, and Jennifer has been supporting her through treatment here.

“I understand why people don’t want to leave the comfort zone of their home area to seek treatment,” Jennifer says. “But traveling to MD Anderson is so worth it. I totally believe in MD Anderson.”

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