Camille S Breast Cancer Survivor Sings National Anthem at NJ Devils Game

“Simona held my hand every step of the way, ensured every appointment that I needed was made and that I was comfortable”

When Camille See Wai discovered a lump in her left breast in summer 2020, she wisely reached out to her doctor. After undergoing a mammogram and a biopsy, she received an upsetting diagnosis: Camille, 55, of Somerset, had infiltrating ductal carcinoma—cancer that begins in a breast’s milk duct and then invades the tissue beyond it. “I was numb when I got the news,” she says. “Even though I knew what they were saying, I was hearing it as though they were standing far away.”

But a journey that began with fear in her heart ended with a song in her heart as treatment allowed Camille to express her passion for choir singing in a way she had not anticipated.

Lindsay Potdevin, MD
Lindsay Potdevin, MD

At the outset, she and her primary care physician discussed where to seek treatment, and for Camille the choice was easy: the Steeplechase Cancer Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Somerset. “A family member had previously had cancer,” she says. “He had gone to RWJUH Somerset and had spoken highly of his care.” She talked it over with her sisters, with whom she has a close relationship, and they supported her decision.

She quickly felt she’d made the right choice. “From the first person I spoke to there to make my first appointment, everyone made me feel so comfortable,” she says. Camille grew even more impressed when she met her breast surgeon, Lindsay Potdevin, MD, a surgical oncologist at RWJUH Somerset and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey. “I love her!” Camille says. “She made me feel as if I were her only patient.”

Kimberly
	 Cromwell- Piniella, BSN, RN, CBCN, OCN
Kimberly Cromwell- Piniella, BSN, RN, CBCN, OCN

Camille’s breast tumor was a little over an inch long, so she first underwent a series of six chemotherapy treatments to shrink it prior to surgery. It was around the time those treatments began, in early fall 2020, that Camille was introduced to Kimberly Cromwell- Piniella, BSN, RN, CBCN, OCN, a breast cancer patient navigator at the Steeplechase Cancer Center.

Attentive Care

“My role is to assist patients throughout the breast cancer trajectory,” Cromwell- Piniella explains. “The patient, throughout the plan of care, needs the navigator to help them emotionally, psychologically and physically. I’m a resource, an asset and a coordinator of appointments. There is a vast role that I cover, to help patients expedite their plan of care and help them throughout the whole transition.”

Cromwell-Piniella reviewed preoperative educational materials with Camille so her patient would know what to expect during and after surgery. The information was not just helpful but comforting, Camille says. “I was nervous because I’d never had surgery before—never even had a broken arm or anything like that,” she says. “This was strange territory, but they helped set me very much at ease.”

Once Camille’s chemotherapy treatments were completed at the Steeplechase Cancer Center in January 2021, she had a partial mastectomy, an outpatient procedure that removes the part of the breast that has cancer. When testing revealed more cancer in her lymph nodes, she underwent a second surgery in February to remove more tissue. This time, further testing showed no signs of cancer.

To minimize the chances of the cancer returning, Camille underwent a 17-day course of radiation therapy at the Steeplechase Cancer Center, which she completed in May, followed by a course of chemotherapy infusions.

All the while, Cromwell-Piniella kept a watchful eye on Camille, alert for problems such as lymphedema, a type of swelling that can occur after treatment for breast cancer. “A number of times, I would assess her and say, ‘Hey, you’re looking a little swollen,’ or ‘You look a little tired, how are you feeling?’” Cromwell-Piniella says. “I referred her to physical therapy to increase her stamina and occupational therapy to help with lymphedema because I had noticed— probably even before she did—that her left hand was becoming swollen.”

All of the Steeplechase Cancer Center’s staffers display this level of attentiveness, Cromwell-Piniella emphasizes. “We care—that’s what it comes down to,” she says. “We try and do the utmost in providing care and comfort for patients.”

Camille felt that kind of care from nurse practitioner Simona Schneider, RN, MSN, as well. “Simona held my hand every step of the way, ensured every appointment that I needed was made and that I was comfortable and not at all apprehensive,” Camille says.

The Steeplechase Cancer Center also strives to make care as convenient as possible, she says. Instead of traveling to different locations in the community or state for multidisciplinary care from specialists such as medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and surgical oncologists, patients can receive all these services in the cancer center. “It’s like one-stop shopping here,” Cromwell- Piniella says.

From Choir to Hockey Arena

Camille is now on the road to recovery. The family that has employed her for many years as a nanny held her job for her. In the meantime, the Steeplechase Cancer Center has helped her get back to one of her favorite pastimes: singing.

Through RWJBarnabas Health’s partnership with the New Jersey Devils, Cromwell-Piniella learned of an opportunity for a cancer survivor to sing the national anthem before a game. Radiation treatment technicians had been impressed with Camille’s ability to hold her breath as part of the therapy. “Camille said, ‘It’s because I sing in the choir at St. Matthias Catholic Church in Somerset,’” Cromwell-Piniella says. Camille was referred and got the gig. “She was perfect for it,” Cromwell- Piniella says.

Camille is also happy to lift her voice in praise of the Steeplechase Cancer Center. “Even though cancer is such a scary thing,” she says, “when you go to the cancer center, you feel like you’re part of a family that is rooting for you.”

Make a Mammogram Appointment

Mammograms are crucial for early diagnosis of breast cancer and should be scheduled annually beginning at age 40. Be especially diligent about screening if you have a family history of breast cancer, have dense breasts, are African American, skipped or delayed screening due to the COVID-19 pandemic or have other known risk factors. If you are due for a mammogram, don’t put it off. Scheduling is quick and easy at the Steeplechase Cancer Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, and you don’t need a prescription.

Online scheduling is now available through healthconnect.rwjbh.org/hcweb or the HEALTH CONNECT APP, or by calling 908-704-3740.

RWJBarnabas Health, together with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey—the state’s only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center—provides close-to-home access to the latest treatment options. To learn more about cancer care at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, visit our Cancer Center or call 844.CANCERNJ (1-844-226-2376).