Clinical Trials Provide Hope, Opportunity

Crista BrawleyBy Crista Brawley

People don’t always realize that clinical research trials are very interactive, and there’s a lot of individual patient care that goes on with clinical research as well. You need someone who’s willing to share with you all the details of how their body is responding to help us understand the up and downsides of what they’re going through. It’s a very personal experience.

When a patient came to Rush for a second opinion on her metastatic breast cancer, the team let her know there were many options to manage her cancer, including ones in clinical research. We asked if she would be willing to learn about some of these studies we had to offer.

She was excited about being in a clinical trial, and that enthusiasm is great for us as a team. She wanted to closely follow the protocol, listen and learn about her care.

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Margaret’s Story: Second Opinion, ‘Second Chance’

margaret-cooperBy Margaret Cooper

In 2009, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my left breast and in some of the lymph nodes on the left side. I had a successful surgery and treatment with chemotherapy followed by reconstructive surgery. They removed 12 lymph nodes, and I had radiation. Everything was going well.

As I approached the five-year mark that would have given me a clean bill of health, I started not feeling well. I had a lot of pain in my upper back, and I felt a lump under my right arm. But my dad was dying at the time, and I was at the hospital a lot. I thought it was just fatigue.

When I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in my bones. It was very, very aggressive. I went to the same hospital near my home where I’d received my first round of treatment. The doctor there told me that there was nothing they could do. That it was hopeless, and I only had a short time left to live.

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‘Pink Divas’ Help Boost Breast Cancer Awareness

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Thelma Gant with her Pink Diva’s Pink Project partners

My name is Thelma Gant. I’m a breast cancer survivor.

Back in 2010, I was diagnosed with DCIS — ductal carcinoma in situ. DCIS is the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer that starts in the milk ducts and has not yet spread into any normal tissue.

I received the best care here at Rush University Cancer Center, under the care of Dr. Ruta Rao. I was very lucky to detect it early by having my mammogram. I can’t stress enough the importance of having your annual mammogram check, which is key to early detection if diagnosed. Also knowing your family health history is important.

Once I was diagnosed, my team of doctors discussed my treatment plan, which consists of lumpectomy (removal of tumor), chemotherapy and radiation. After completing all my treatments, I wanted to find some kind of way to help women by educating them about breast cancer awareness.

In 2011, I created Pink Divas Pink Project. This group started out with me and four other women. The group has now grown to 11 members strong.  We are starting to reach out to different community getting the message out. I was just invited out to Mount Moriah Baptist Church Health Fair in Harvey, Ill., and it was a great experience. I was able to make contact with this lovely lady who promised me she would schedule her mammogram.

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Foundation Funds Complementary Breast Cancer Care

Angela Johnson, a practitioner of Chinese medicine in the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IllinoisBy Angela Johnson

In a beautiful and quiet space of the 10th-floor Rush University Cancer Center, a team of integrative medicine providers helps people diagnosed with cancer heal in mind, body and spirit.

The Cancer Integrative Medicine Program team recently received exciting news: The Susan F. Lasky Cancer Foundation has provided funding so that patients with breast cancer can participate in a series of acupuncture, massage, nutritional counseling or yoga sessions, at no charge. The Cancer Integrative Medicine Program team is honored to receive this donation, as it creates opportunities for people who may not otherwise be able to afford our services, with a chance to be involved in their own care.

As the practitioner of Chinese medicine for the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program, I am thrilled to have this resource available to breast cancer patients. For those who elect acupuncture, the ability to receive a series of weekly treatments can make a significant impact in helping reduce the side effects related to cancer and cancer treatment. As one of the most studied forms of complementary medicine, acupuncture has been found to be safe, and play a very useful role in symptom supportive care. In research studies, acupuncture supports the immune system, and is known to help with symptoms like fatigue, depression, pain, vomiting, radiation-induced xerostomia (i.e., dry mouth), and chemotherapy-induced hot flashes.

If you or someone you know has a breast cancer diagnosis, and is interested in integrative medicine, please contact the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program at (312) 563-2531 to learn more about this wonderful opportunity.

Angela Johnson, Dipl OM, MSTOM, MPH, LAc, is a practitioner of Chinese medicine with the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program at Rush.

Experts Answer Your Questions About Breast Cancer

Melody Cobleigh, MD, a renowned medical oncologist at Rush, will participate in an online Q&A about breast cancer on Friday, Oct. 12, from noon to 1 p.m. She’ll be joined by breast cancer surgeon Andrea Madrigrano, MD.

In this video, Cobleigh talks about her involvement in research of the medication Herceptin, which is now part of the standard of care for breast cancer treatment.

“We were dealing with some patients who were extremely ill who got better right before our eyes,” she says, “and that was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life in medicine.”

To watch the chat live or submit a question, visit Rush’s Facebook page on Oct. 12 or sign up now for an event reminder. You can also submit questions in advance on Twitter by including the #rushhealthchat tag or via email at

Tips for Breast Cancer Patients With Hot Flashes

By Angela M. Johnson

As a practitioner of Chinese medicine with the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program, I have the privilege of providing care for many women with breast cancer. In my discussions with patients, hot flashes are among the most common symptoms people ask for help with, as they cause both physical and emotional distress. In observance of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, here’s a little more information about hot flashes, and some helpful tips on how to reduce the heat — inside and out.

Hot flashes are sudden, and many times, an intense sensation of heat in the body. They are often accompanied by a red, flushed look on the face and sweating. Many women also experience sweating at night (aka night sweats), a rapid heart rate and chills after the night sweats subside. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), they are “a problem for many menopausal women and a common side effect of breast cancer treatment.” Unfortunately, hot flashes aren’t just quick bouts of heat sensations that come and go quickly. They vary in intensity, duration and frequency, and interrupt sleep, often causing a sense of discomfort, anxiety and decreased quality of life. Continue reading

Cancer Survivor, Rush Patient Feels ‘Truly Blessed’

By Sheila Rawlins

Wow, I remember that day as if it was yesterday, and yet it seems like a lifetime ago. I was so “cavalier” about having another breast biopsy. I had been through this so many times. I wasn’t scared, I was inconvenienced.

But the next day, my cell phone rang. It seemed the surgeon had been trying to get a hold of me. I was to meet him in two hours. I still wasn’t worried, until I saw the look on his face. I had never seen that look; he took my hand and said, “The report wasn’t good.” He looked at me and said the words that would forever change my life: “The biopsy was malignant; you have breast cancer.”

My heart was heavy, my head spinning. Breast cancer? Me? I immediately thought of the horrendous surgery I saw my own mother go through when she was diagnosed with breast cancer many years ago. Why me? Why now? It almost seemed as though my life whirled in front of me. What had I done or not done to deserve this? I am turning 50. This must be a cruel joke! Black balloons, wilted flowers, but breast cancer? And now, I need to tell my husband, my children, my family.

Five days later, I found myself in surgery, again. This would be another day that would change my life forever. Today I was going to lose my breast. My mind was whirling again. Why me? I remember waking up in the recovery room, my left chest covered in a shroud of gauze and tape, so padded that it almost looked as though my breast was still there. I was in and out, lost in a sleepy haze and nausea. My back hurt, my shoulder hurt, and I was a one-breasted woman. Continue reading

The Racial Disparity in Chicago Breast Cancer Deaths

By David Ansell, MD

Chicago has a health outcome disparity problem. It’s a civic disgrace. Each year the consequence of this health equity gap in Chicago is that 3,200 black people die prematurely just because they do not have the same health outcomes as whites.

The reasons why these racial disparities in health outcomes persist in Chicago at levels greater than the rest of the country is a story unto itself. As Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And Chicago’s racial disparity in health outcomes arises from our own unhappy history of race relations in the city. Chicago’s past has contributed to create the situation we have today: patterns of institutionalized racism, hypersegregated medically underserved neighborhoods, high rates of uninsurance and mistrustful attitudes towards the health care system.

The following figure from a recent Chicago Tribune article tells a story for breast cancer mortality disparity in Chicago that is instructive to review as we address solutions. A picture is worth a thousand words.

The line graph on a Chicago Tribune graphic (“Female Breast Cancer Mortality Rate by Race”) shows the growing breast cancer disparity gap in Chicago in three-year intervals from 1980 until 2007. There are three notable observations about this graph. First, in the 1980s there was virtually no difference in the black:white breast cancer mortality. Second, by 2007 breast cancer mortality was 62 percent higher in African American women than white women in Chicago. Third, while the mortality rates from breast cancer have dropped for white women as they should have with access to modern screening and treatment, the rates for black women in Chicago have not budged. It is as if all the newest developments in breast cancer screening and treatment have bypassed black women in Chicago. Continue reading