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With You All The Way - Gretchen: Patient Stories

Beating breast cancer surrounded by love, support and top-notch care

About one in eight women will battle breast cancer

But many more lives are affected. Spouses, children and loved ones also share in this difficult, life-changing experience. And the loving support they offer during this journey can make all the difference.

Just ask Gig Harbor resident Gretchen Beckman and her husband, Dan. When their lives were recently affected by a breast cancer diagnosis, Gretchen and Dan turned to our area’s best care at Jane Thompson Russell Cancer Care Center at the Milgard Medical Pavilion at St. Anthony Hospital.


An unexpected discovery

Gretchen was in the good habit of getting annual mammograms, and the most recent results were normal. But in December 2013, she felt a lump in her breast. She wasn’t even searching for it. “I took off my bra and just felt it. It was right there.”

Gretchen, with the support of her husband, saw her doctor the next day and was referred for another mammogram. Breast cancer was ultimately confirmed. Without hesitation she knew where to turn — her father had battled cancer and she remembered how well the Virginia Mason Franciscan Health team treated him.

“It all happened pretty quickly,” Gretchen recalled. After a biopsy and other tests, her medical oncologist Frank M. Senecal, MD, FACP, medical director of Franciscan Cancer Center, decided the best course of action would be chemotherapy, then mastectomy, then radiation. It was going to be a long journey, but Dan was committed to being with Gretchen every step of the way.

Personal touch

Top notch care is paramount, but personal interactions with doctors and nurses from Jane T. Russell Cancer Care Center are what confirmed for Gretchen and Dan they were in the right place. The couple found comfort in the relationship they built with the doctors and their staff. The team made sure both Gretchen and Dan had all of the information they needed to make informed decisions, and they demonstrated genuine care and compassion throughout the entire process. “It’s just a small item, but all of the providers always hugged my wife and that made me feel good,” said Dan. “And they said ‘God bless you’ each time. We both have a strong faith so that meant a lot to us.”

Gretchen also formed bonds with her chemo nurses. “I love all of my chemo nurses,” she said. “If you have to go through chemo, I would rate the experience at the cancer center very highly.”

For Gretchen and Dan, their outcome was a happy one. Gretchen finished her final day of chemo on her 49th birthday surrounded by 14 family members and close friends.

Best treatment option for you

There are several types of breast cancer, and many possible treatments. The team of experts at the Jane T. Russell Cancer Care Center will work with you to identify and explore all of your options. You can count on them to be knowledgeable about the latest clinical trials and research.

To determine an action plan it’s necessary to first identify the type of cancer present. A biopsy helps doctors to check for estrogen receptor, progesterone receptor and HER2/ neu receptor. These results help determine the appropriate treatment regimen since certain types of breast cancer respond well to some forms of treatment but not others.

Sometimes surgery is the next step after biopsy — surgery could mean a lumpectomy or mastectomy. In cases where the tumor is too big or aggressive, chemo is given before surgery. Clinical trials show that in aggressive tumors, especially in triple negative tumors, if chemo is given up front there is a better chance that the tumor is not coming back.

We’re in it together

After a cancer diagnosis, there is a lot of information to take in and decisions to be made. That’s why our experts are here to provide you with clear information and to address any concerns. Our area’s leading team of doctors, nurses and staff coordinate care to make sure everyone is on the same page. This means that starting from the moment we first see you and all the way through your treatment program, you get high-quality, compassionate care.

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