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

One Patient, Two Cancers: ‘Each Day is a Gift’

Three days before she was scheduled to begin radiation treatment for breast cancer, Fran learned she had endometrial cancer.

But minimally invasive da Vinci robotic surgery at Rush University Medical Center enabled the retired schoolteacher to quickly begin the radiation treatment.

“We felt that if we can go ahead and do the robotic aspect of her endometrial cancer first and the recovery is short, then we can proceed with radiation to her breast,” said Alfred Guirguis, DO, a gynecologic oncologist at Rush.

Fran was admitted on a Monday and left the hospital on a Wednesday with only five small incisions. And she was able to proceed quickly with the radiation treatment for her breast cancer.

Within a week, she was back on her feet doing everything she was doing before surgery. “Complications were really none,” he said.

“A lot of women, I think, are not informed that this is a possibility – that they could have their hysterectomy this way,” Fran said. “And it was so much better, so much better.”

She said she’s grateful to the Rush team, noting that not all hospitals offer robotic surgery.

“I appreciate every day. I appreciate all kinds of things I always did before but so much more now,” she said.

“Each day is a gift, and I feel pretty lucky. I had two cancers and they got them early.”