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Janice P Care and Support For Every Step In the Breast Cancer Journey

“It’s really helpful hearing other women talk about their experiences, I think, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve had that problem, too.’ I learn from them, and it makes me realize I’m not alone with this.”

When doctors found a lump in Janice Parisi’s left breast during her annual checkup and mammogram last spring, it wasn’t a total shock. “My mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 43,” Janice says. “In the back of my mind, there was always the thought that it could happen to me, too.”

Yet, when a biopsy confirmed that Janice had stage II breast cancer, that didn’t make the news any easier to take. Fortunately, the 55-year-old homemaker from Branchburg had an outstanding support team. Her husband, Robert, took a year’s leave of absence from work to be by her side. And the caring doctors and staff at The Steeplechase Cancer Center at Somerset Medical Center were there to help the couple every step of the way.

Taking Charge of Her Destiny
Right off the bat, Janice had a big decision to make: What type of surgery would be best for her?

“Because Janice’s mother had developed breast cancer before age 50, I recommended that she have the BRCA gene test before making her decision,” says Angela Lanfranchi, MD, chair of the Breast Cancer Institute at The Steeplechase Cancer Center and Janice’s breast surgeon. This test looks for harmful genetic mutations that greatly increase a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

In Janice’s case, the test came back positive, which meant she had a high risk of eventually getting cancer in the other breast as well. Armed with that information, she chose to have a bilateral mastectomy — surgery to remove both breasts. “The odds were stacked against me,” Janice says. “Once I knew that, it wasn’t a hard decision.”

Approximately 5 percent of all breast cancers are due to the BRCA gene. For women who have inherited a harmful BRCA mutation, knowing about it helps guide their treatment choices. “It’s hard enough to go through breast cancer treatment once,” says Dr. Lanfranchi. “Nobody wants to have a recurrence and be forced to go through it again.”
Full Circle of Cancer Care
In addition to the bilateral mastectomy, Janice had breast reconstruction surgery and chemotherapy. All her doctors were based at The Steeplechase Cancer Center, so she and her husband didn’t have to drive far for appointments. “We’re fortunate to have a top-notch facility with a very dedicated staff so close to home,” says Robert.

Janice was able to have breast reconstruction with silicone implants while still in the operating room after her mastectomy. That way, she didn’t have to come back for a second surgery. “And she never had to wake up without breasts,” says Matthew Kaufman, MD, Janice’s plastic and reconstructive surgeon, who partnered with Dr. Lanfranchi for the procedures.

After surgery, a test of the tumor cells showed an elevated risk for cancer recurrence. So Janice also underwent chemotherapy. This part of her treatment was overseen by Kathleen Toomey, MD, a medical oncologist and medical director of The Steeplechase Cancer Center. “Janice and I had a lot of questions, and Dr. Toomey had the patience to answer all of them,” says Robert.

Support for Every Need
“Our breast cancer patients are a highly motivated group of women who want to get well,” says Katrina Losa, RN, director of cancer services at Somerset Medical Center. “Some may seek a second opinion at competing academic medical centers, but ultimately they decide to come here. Our goal is to provide comprehensive services in one place — so the patient does not have to travel.”

The Steeplechase Cancer Center provides comprehensive breast services. Every case is reviewed by a multidisciplinary group of physicians and nurses and a collaborative treatment plan is made for all newly diagnosed cases. A nurse navigator assists patients with various needs and offers support throughout the journey. The Steeplechase Cancer Center provides various support programs for women diagnosed with breast cancer, as well as oncology rehabilitation and exercise classes tailored for women with breast cancer.

One convenience Janice especially appreciated was the Sanofi U.S. Wellness Boutique, located in the lobby of The Steeplechase Cancer Center. Janice wasn’t feeling well the day she went in to pick out a wig. “Lisa Lindenberg, who runs the boutique, was so understanding and helpful,” says Janice. “She even called me a day later to make sure I was OK.”

Janice also liked the center’s exercise program designed especially for cancer patients. “Before my diagnosis, I had been taking aerobics with the same group of girls since 1996,” Janice says. “The exercise program at Steeplechase helped me return to my regular aerobics class sooner.” Today, she’s back to her twice-a-week aerobics routine.

Throughout the whole treatment process, breast cancer nurse navigator Agnes Salamon, RN, was there to offer information and assistance. Salamon also leads a cancer support group that Janice joined and is still attending months later. “It’s really helpful hearing other women talk about their experiences,” Janice says. “I think, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve had that problem, too.’ I learn from them, and it makes me realize I’m not alone with this.”