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Andrea: Patient Stories

One cold day in January 2010, Andrea learned she had breast cancer. It was the start of a journey that she never wanted to take.

"The diagnosis was shocking," she says. "I was surprised, scared to death, and blindsided." Andrea, 47, lives in Puyallup and runs her own successful web design and internet marketing business. Her work requires long hours and nonstop networking, but she always makes time to get recommended health screenings. "My Dad died of cancer so I have been very disciplined about getting the necessary exams, right on schedule," Andrea says.

A suspect mammogram brought the bad news. Andrea took immediate action, and within the next two months, she had two surgeries in Seattle — but came out of the experience feeling traumatized. "Neither surgery went well," Andrea says. "Waking up in recovery, I had terrible pain and panic. It left me with a grave fear of the operating room."

Andrea started chemotherapy in Tacoma, which lasted through mid-July. It was a very difficult time, physically and emotionally. "At one point, I truly thought the chemo was going to kill me," Andrea says. "Somehow, I got through it." She wore a breast prosthesis and did her best to return to her normal, active life. Eventually, she started to think about breast reconstruction, even with her past surgical experiences looming large in her mind.

After doing some research, Andrea found the office of Todd Willcox, MD, a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon practicing at Franciscan Plastic Surgery in Lakewood. "By the time I sat down with Dr. Willcox, I felt broken and mutilated. But the person who answered my first call to the office was so warm and kind to me — it gave me a good feeling from the start. Then I met Dr. Willcox, who was incredibly genuine and compassionate. He took a lot of time to explain things thoroughly. I trusted him, and I thought, 'Yeah. Let's do it.'"

Dr. Willcox scheduled Andrea's first reconstructive surgery at St. Clare Hospital in September. He teamed up with anesthesiologist Ryan Anderson, MD, who consulted extensively with Andrea to plan the approach for anesthesia in light of her prior experiences. The surgery was long, but successful. "Dr. Willcox took extra time because he wanted me to look perfect, and Dr. Anderson kept me safe and managed the whole time. And for the first time, when I woke up in recovery, I felt ok," Andrea says.

She was kept overnight at St. Clare; Andrea says the care she received was in such stark contrast to her previous hospital stays that she was inspired to write multiple cards of thanks when she got home. "The same standard and quality of care I found with my doctors, I found with every person involved in my care during my hospital stay, from pre-op through discharge. The day and night nurses and other staff that attended to me were amazingly attentive, responsive, thorough, kind and personable. Every handoff was perfect and my every need was promptly addressed. I felt like I was the only patient there. It was astounding — to me, as the patient, and also to my family and visitors."

In January 2011, Andrea returned to St. Clare for her second reconstructive procedure. To her surprise and delight, Andrea's doctors and many members of her original care team convened again to see her through it. She'll return for her third and final surgery soon.

"I think it was a divine arrangement that brought me to St. Clare Hospital," Andrea says. "I was fragile and I needed special care. I found something extraordinary here, and I feel truly blessed — to have found Dr. Willcox and St. Clare, and to have met all the special, kind people that I did."