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With the Help of LCI Breast Clinic Team, Cancer Survivor Lands on Her Feet
A diagnosis of cancer turned Mia Ramirez’s world upside down. But after persevering through months of treatment with her team at the Lifespan Cancer Institute at The Miriam Hospital, Ramirez found an unusual way to celebrate a return to normalcy.
In November 2016, Ramirez discovered a marble-sized lump in her breast during a self-exam. She wasn’t too upset, though—she’d previously had a cyst in her breast, and it resolved on its own. “I thought, maybe it’s just that, because it had happened before.”
With no history of breast cancer in her family and at age 38, she had not yet had a baseline mammogram. So, after having a diagnostic mammogram, an ultrasound, and a biopsy, Ramirez was stunned when she was diagnosed with HER 2-positive, encapsulated Stage I breast cancer.
“When they say it’s cancer, your mind goes to all the really, really bad stuff,” Ramirez says.
Right from the start, though, she felt she was in good hands at the Lifespan Cancer Institute’s Breast Cancer Multidisciplinary Clinic. Ramirez says she was comforted that she could bring as many people as she wished to the initial consultation. Her husband, David, her best friend, and an aunt were there, and a friend in Florida weighed in via conference call. This practice helps the patient gather information by way of others’ questions and see issues from different angles.
Ramirez also appreciated the LCI’s multidisciplinary approach that connected her with her whole care team on one day. Her group met individually with surgeon Christine Emmick, MD; Rochelle Strenger, MD, director of women’s medical oncology at The Miriam; a radiation oncologist and a social worker.
Idalina Colburn, a nurse navigator for breast and gynecological cancers at The Miriam Hospital, works closely with young breast cancer patients and addresses their special needs, supporting them from diagnosis through survivorship.
“Once the providers walk out of the room, I’m the person who walks in and helps the patient understand and cope with what she’s just heard and is feeling,” says Colburn. “There are so many things, like sexuality and depression, that young women experience. It’s a lot for them to handle.”
“Idalina was my go-to person. If I ever needed anything, she is who I called at The Miriam.” - Mia Ramirez
One consideration Ramirez and her husband didn’t expect to confront was choosing whether to store some of her eggs. They learned that her cancer treatment might affect her fertility if they one day decided to have a brother or sister to join their 15-year-old daughter, Dasha, and son Diego, now 3.
“That was a really hard decision, and it had to be made rather quickly,” Ramirez says, so that her treatment could begin. Ultimately, the couple chose not to preserve her eggs because a future pregnancy might increase the odds of her cancer recurring.
Ramirez was treated for two tumors with a lumpectomy (breast-conserving surgery) in January 2017, followed by four rounds of chemotherapy and 33 doses of radiation. “Because of my age, and the type of cancer, they go aggressive to make sure everything is gone,” Ramirez says. By the time she finished her treatment, six months had passed.
Ramirez and her husband were fortunate to have family close by to help care for their children while she endured the fatigue (but thankfully, little nausea) caused by her treatment. For extra support, she relied on Colburn, her patient navigator, as well as a therapist. “Idalina was my go-to person. If I ever needed anything, she is who I called at The Miriam.”
Ramirez comments, “They say you get a second birthday. Some people choose the day of diagnosis, others the day of their last treatment, or the day they get the ‘all clear.’ So it depends on the person. I think mine will be the day of my last treatment.”
Her way of marking the beginning of her new life?
“I went skydiving!” Ramirez says. Despite being afraid of heights, she says she’d always wanted to try it. Ramirez did a tandem jump, tethered to an expert, and called the experience “exhilarating. There was so much adrenaline coursing through my body for the rest of the day, I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
Ramirez is back to enjoying simple pleasures with her family: going to museums and the zoo, seeking out new pizzas to sample with her “pizza connoisseur” husband, having cookouts with family.
“I still go back and try to process a lot of what happened,” Ramirez says, and she’s thankful to everyone at the Lifespan Cancer Institute at The Miriam Hospital for guiding her along the path. “It’s been quite a journey.”
Program Has a Special Focus
To address the needs of young women like Mia Ramirez who receive a cancer diagnosis, the Lifespan Cancer Institute has established the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Program.
For women younger than 42, breast cancer presents particular challenges. The disease tends to be more aggressive in young women, and their risk of depression, sexual side effects, and premature menopausal symptoms is greater.
The Young Women's Breast Cancer program aims to meet the needs of this growing population of breast cancer patients with additional support, education, and research.