Shantel C A Bright Future After Breast Cancer

“Dr. Cohen was very precise but also relaxed, so you don’t freak out and worry when you’re in her care.”

In June 2021, Shantel Cogman, then 36, received unwelcome news: She had Stage 2 breast cancer.

“It was traumatic and a lot to deal with. But my husband and I decided that we were going to be positive about it,” she recalls.

Today, the mother of four boys has completed chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and radiation therapy at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBI) and is feeling, in her words, “amazing.”

Originally from Saint Croix—“I’m an island girl,” she says proudly—Cogman lives in Irvington with her husband, Anthony, and their sons Cordé, 14, Evan, 10, Anthony, Jr., 6, and Shawn, 3. While breastfeeding Shawn one day in the fall of 2020, Cogman felt pain in her right breast and found a lump. “I thought maybe it was nothing, or a clogged duct from breastfeeding; I just wanted to think of anything else other than cancer,” she recalls.

After a few months, when the pain and lump did not go away, she decided to set up her annual gynecologist appointment. Her gynecologist arranged for her to have a digital mammogram at the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey Breast Health Center at NBI. That led to a breast biopsy.

When the biopsy returned positive results, the team at NBI’s Frederick B. Cohen, MD, Comprehensive Cancer and Blood Disorders Center—which is affiliated with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center—swung into action.

Coordinated Care

Alice Cohen, MD
Alice Cohen, MD

The multidisciplinary team creates a personalized plan of care for each patient. “We have a regular breast cancer tumor board that meets weekly to discuss each patient’s test results and treatment, and that can include nurses, physicians, social workers, genetic counselors, dietitians and anyone else involved in their care,” explains Cogman’s oncologist, Alice Cohen, MD, Section Chief of Hematology for NBI.

Genetic testing revealed that Cogman had a BRCA gene mutation, which is inherited. The mutation makes cells more likely to divide and change rapidly and can increase the risk for breast, ovarian and other types of cancers. Further testing indicated she was a good candidate for a clinical trial NBI is conducting.

By July, Cogman was enrolled in the clinical trial and had begun chemotherapy treatment. Chemotherapy was hard on her body, Cogman says. At home, her mother, Marva, moved in to be by her side and help with the kids.

“Everyone at the hospital was so empathetic, and they made me feel like part of a family,” she says. “Dr. Cohen was very precise but also relaxed, so you don’t freak out and worry when you’re in her care.”

Cogman completed her chemotherapy on December 6, 2021, which was also her 37th birthday. As is tradition at NBI, she rang a bell to mark the event.

In January, she had a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction to help decrease the chances that her cancer would return. Cogman also completed five weeks of radiation in the spring to help kill any remaining cancer cells left in the body. Hormone-therapy medication, taken for five to 10 years, will further minimize the chance of breast cancer returning.

“We were very happy with Shantel’s response to treatment, and her prognosis is good,” says Dr. Cohen. “Because she has the BRCA gene mutation, we’ll screen for other cancers, such as ovarian or pancreatic cancer, as she gets older.”

Big Plans

Cogman is now studying for a bachelor’s degree in business management and entrepreneurship and hopes to one day use her degree to help other cancer patients. “Whether it’s through marketing or PR, I’d like to help provide support to people battling cancer,” she says. She also plans to travel to Saint Croix this summer for her 20th high school reunion and hopes to take her sons to Disney World. “They were such a great support system to me,” she says.

Her advice to other patients? “Wherever the mind is, the body will follow. If you’re thinking positively, your body is going to move into that direction too,” she says. “Just focus on the healing, and everything else will work out.”

Triple Positive and a Clinical Trial

Shantel Cogman’s biopsy found that her tumor was positive for estrogen and progesterone receptors, meaning her breast cancer is fueled by these natural hormones. However, the biopsy also found that she was negative for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), a protein that promotes the growth of cancer cells. Patients whose tumors test positive for all three receptors are considered “triple positive” and receive a special course of treatment.

As it happened, NBI was conducting a related clinical trial, a study in which the most promising new treatments are given to patients. The trial required a second biopsy to look for HER2 on the molecular level. “Data has been found that some women have HER2 positivity that isn’t picked up on regular testing—it’s more microscopic,” explains Cogman’s oncologist, Alice Cohen, MD.

Cogman tested positive for HER2 on this second biopsy. “As part of the clinical trial, she had standard chemotherapy plus an anti-HER2 medication called Trastuzumab, which was administered for 12 weeks in the second phase of her chemotherapy,” says Dr.Cohen. Cogman will continue in the clinical trial for follow-up for the next five years.

“I jumped at the chance to participate because I knew that it could help contribute to the future of treatment for women, especially younger women,” Cogman says.

To make an appointment with a breast cancer specialist at the Frederick B. Cohen, MD, Comprehensive Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, call 844-CANCERNJ, or 844-226-2376.