By Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Correspondent
Kate Grimes, a physical therapist from Belmont, MA, was 33 when her doctors first used the word “cancer.”
She heard it after an unusual nipple discharge scared her into an emergency room visit. It was caused by atypical hyperplasia, a condition that doctors cautioned could progress to breast cancer.
After this diagnosis, and 12 years of routine mammograms and hope, cancer was discovered. At the start of the 19-year roller coaster ride that followed, Kate met Nadine Tung, MD, a medical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).
“I found out about my diagnosis while I was at work,” Kate says. “When I got home, I got a call from my doctor who gave me Nadine’s phone number. I called her, crying. I don’t even know how I got through to her, to tell you the truth.”
Their first meeting lasted over an hour, a level of attention that stunned Kate at first. Dr. Tung carefully explained all the steps she would take during treatment. It was the start of an enduring relationship that has seen Kate through a double mastectomy, two liver surgeries and chemotherapy, as well as sharing the joys of a normal life. Dr. Tung has served as Kate’s point-person, easing her through the uncertainty and challenges that cancer presented, and guiding her to other experts who have intervened with their own skilled hands.
After surgery and six months of chemotherapy, Kate began to feel her life coast back to normal. By this time at age 46, she was teaching physical therapy to graduate students while still seeing patients, able to keep up with the demands of work throughout her chemo treatment.
“I felt pretty good. I got back to my life,” she says. She spent the next several years doing all the right things – taking anti-estrogen medications, blood work once or twice a year, eating well, plenty of rest.
“Everything in moderation,” Kate says. “But relapse is always in the back of your mind. Anyone who’s had cancer has their eyes wide open about their vulnerability.”
At age 56, routine blood work tipped doctors off that her breast cancer had metastasized to her liver. The news was ominous – a large tumor that would require surgery to remove two-thirds of her liver. But along with the skilled surgeons who completed two successful surgeries, Kate credits Dr. Tung for keeping her grounded.
“I thought, ‘this is it, I’m done.’ But I remember her saying, ‘Okay, Kate. This is what I think we should do next…’ She gives you hope that there’s something that can be done, one step at a time.
“You find strength where you never even knew you were strong,” Kate says of her experiences with cancer. “Once your doctors find your strength, it must be a lot easier for them to help you along. Nadine has figured out a way…she is uncanny in her ability to know when and how to approach you with information.”
Kate recalls waking up from a second surgery – a high-risk procedure to remove a cancerous spot from the surface of a major artery to her liver – to receive the news that her surgery had been a success.
“Ten years later, here I am,” says Kate, today age 66. Staff at BIDMC continues to monitor her monthly. Those she credits with her survival are now countless. She calls them the Quiet Heroes.
“The people I have met at BIDMC have gone above and beyond – compassionate, kind – how they treat you as a person who’s scared and frightened, but have a way to tap into your strength and make things work, and at the same time, share laughs and smiles. They are very, very special people.”
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
Posted October 2016