The Future of Family
After Breast Cancer
Michelle and Lance Christensen were building a new family in November 2020. Their daughter, Aubrey, was just beginning to toddle and plans for a second child were on the horizon. Those plans, however, came to a screeching halt the morning Michelle noticed an indentation in her left breast.
A physical exam, mammogram and ultrasound revealed that the indentation was the result of a four-centimeter tumor that had attached to her skin. A needle biopsy confirmed that Michelle, then 37 years old, had breast cancer.
“I’d waited so long to have my daughter, and now I was afraid I might not see her grow up,” Michelle said. “My dreams of building our family were put on hold.”
She consulted with a surgical oncologist at Long Beach Medical Center on December 17, who recommended chemotherapy before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor. So, the next day, Michelle met with a medical oncologist who recommended a high-powered combination of chemotherapy drugs. Concerned that these might prevent future pregnancies, Michelle wanted a second opinion. Like most breast cancer patients, she was assured that she had time.
Her second opinion came from medical oncologist, John Link, M.D. Dr. Link founded the MemorialCare Breast Centers at both Long Beach and Orange Coast Medical Center before establishing Breastlink, which recently joined MemorialCare Medical Group.
“Her goal was to have another baby, so we planned for fertility,” explained Dr. Link. “We administered less toxic chemotherapy and minimized damage to her ovaries by putting them to sleep during treatment. When her ovaries awaken, we’ll talk about harvesting eggs, which can increase her chances of pregnancy.”
As a breast cancer patient within the MemorialCare system, Michelle not only had access to top doctors and state-of-the-art technology, she also received personal guidance and support from a dedicated breast nurse navigator. A virtual tour of the Zouras Family Infusion Center at Orange Coast Medical Center shows patients like Michelle what to expect on their first day of chemotherapy. Michelle’s chemotherapy began on January 27 and continued every three weeks until May 13. The staff at Orange Coast Medical Center connected Michelle with critical resources, such as nutritional and genetic counseling, support groups and access to the wig bank located at the hospital, but it was the personal touches and compassion that made all the difference to Michelle.
“The staff was so upbeat and pleasant. Diane Woods, one of the registered nurses, crocheted beautiful blankets for me and my daughter,” Michelle said. “When I lost my hair, another nurse brought me the perfect wig.”
By the day of surgery, the tumor had shrunk by 80 percent, but because its remnants were scattered over the original four-centimeter footprint, a mastectomy with reconstruction was Michelle’s best option. Recovery was followed by radiation therapy – which she completed in mid-September – and hormone therapy to minimize chances that the cancer will return. Once hormone therapy is complete, Michelle will turn her attention back to growing her family.
Self-exams and mammograms
Monthly self-exams are critical for women of all ages – even young women like Michelle, who are considered low risk with no family history of breast cancer and no known genetic variants.
“Our coalition opinion is that all women should be evaluated for breast cancer risk beginning at age 30 and should begin annual mammograms at age 40, or earlier if risk factors are present,” said Richard Reitherman, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of breast imaging at the MemorialCare Breast Centers at Orange Coast Medical Center and Huntington Beach. “It’s also important that their mammograms be read by a dedicated breast radiologist. This is a critical difference – studies show that radiologists who specialize perform at higher competency than those who do not.”
All mammograms at MemorialCare Breast Centers are interpreted by dedicated breast radiologists. If they recommend further testing or treatment, the transition from screening to diagnosis, treatment and aftercare is seamless.
To learn more about MemorialCare Breast Centers, please click here.
Michelle Christensen can shift her focus to her growing family thanks to the advanced technology and expertise at Orange Coast Medical Center.
A guide to preventive healthcare
Regular cancer screenings are a part of a healthy, proactive lifestyle. Read below for general guidelines on how often to schedule oncology screenings – timelines may vary by person due to individual needs and doctor discretion.
Yearly | Breast cancer
For women age 40 and above. Breast self-exams should be performed monthly. This promotes early diagnosis in some women and supports the goal of women being in control of their own healthcare decisions.
What to schedule: mammogram
Every one to two years | Prostate cancer
For men age 50 and above, or 45 and above for African American men and men with a close family member who had prostate cancer before 65.
What to schedule: consultation with your doctor to discuss screening and testing options
Every three to five years | Cervical cancer
For women age 30 to 65. Cervical cancer screening should begin when a woman becomes sexually active and ends typically at age 65 if all have been negative. The HPV vaccine is recommended after age 9 and ideally before sexual activity.
What to schedule: Pap test and HPV test
Every five to 10 years | Colorectal cancer/colon cancer
Beginning at age 45, earlier if there is a family history.
What to schedule: consultation with your doctor to discuss a colonoscopy or flexible sigmoidoscopy
As-needed basis, as recommended by your doctor | Lung cancer
For those who are between 50 and 80, smoke now or have quit within the past year, and have a history of smoking a pack a day for 20 years or more.
What to schedule: consultation with your doctor to discuss screening options
ACR Reaccreditation for
Imaging Modalities and Breast Imaging
Orange Coast Medical Center is pleased to announce the honor of reaccreditation for numerous modalities
in imaging and breast care by the American College of Radiology® (ACR), one of only two hospitals in Orange County accredited for nuclear medicine, positron emission tomography (PET), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) and mammography.
“Our advanced screening technology aids in early cancer detection, giving patients peace of mind,” said Richard Wasley, M.D., medical director of the MemorialCare Imaging Center at Orange Coast Medical Center.
Additionally, the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center received ACR’s Breast Imaging Center of Excellence (BICOE) designation.
Richard Reitherman, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of breast imaging at the MemorialCare Breast Centers at Orange Coast Medical Center and Huntington Beach, proudly stated, “Our patients are confident that all their breast care needs can be taken care of within one collaborative system – every step of the way.”
Schedule your next mammogram at a MemorialCare Breast Center near you and get a $10 Shell gas card.*
*While supplies last. Must complete a mammogram at one of the following MemorialCare Breast Centers: Fountain Valley (Orange Coast Medical Center), Huntington Beach or Newport Beach.
One in eight women will develop breast cancer, so it’s important for women over 40 to not delay their annual mammography screening. For those who still need a COVID-19 vaccination, make sure to schedule an appointment either before or four to six weeks after the last dose – all vaccines stimulate the immune system and may cause inaccurate results.
To schedule an appointment with one of our expert radiologists, please click here.
1. “How Common Is Breast Cancer?” American Cancer Society®.
Make the one choice that takes care of everything.
We’re here with all the care and convenience you need.
An entire healthcare support system that 97% of patients would recommend. That’s MemorialCare. Giving you access to virtual care and the ability to speak online with a provider. Serving you with 225 locations. Even providing personalized guidance online or from a patient navigator. With an experience entirely focused on your convenience and best health, make the one choice that takes care of everything.
For more information, click here or call 877-MYMEMCARE (696-3622).