Written by Greg Bennett
On April 7, 2014, Libbie Hamann and her husband went in for their regular, annual physicals. Libbie had always had cystic breasts, but recent weight loss from eating healthier made one lump more noticeable, so she discussed it with her primary care physician.
“My doctor was concerned about that particular lump, so we had it checked and it was cancer,” Libbie says.
Libbie knew a positive attitude would help her — and others around her — deal with the challenges of breast cancer, so she prayed that there would be another patient she could help.
She didn’t want it to be her daughter.
“To hear she was diagnosed was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Libbie says.
Valerie Pryor, Libbie’s daughter, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2014 and the two have gone through treatments together, using the same doctors.
“The big thing with our doctors was that we were getting confirmation from other medical professionals about how good our doctors were,” Valerie says. “Just as important, though, was that they would look you in the eye and make you feel like you were their only patient. That means a lot when you’re going through something scary like breast cancer.”
Without knowing it, both women were benefitting from a newly accredited Breast Center of Excellence, featured in part by specialists caring for patients at Intermountain Healthcare’s American Fork Hospital and Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. While the Center isn’t a physical, all-under-one-roof organization, it is a group of doctors from a number of clinics and specialties who work together to maintain the highest levels of treatment for breast disease, including cancer. The Center recently received accreditation from the prestigious National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC).
“What we found when we started the process is that we were already offering a really high level of care,” says Dr. Jennifer Tittensor, a breast surgeon and chair of the Center’s leadership committee. “The extra things the accreditation looks at are things like unified care and internal review that notches up the level of care.”
With the NAPBC stamp of approval, local patients can rest assured they and their loved ones are receiving the same level of care available at the nation’s largest cancer treatment centers.
“Let me put it this way,” says Dr. Mark Jensen, a reconstructive plastic surgeon and member of the Center’s leadership committee, “when my mom got breast cancer, I had her come down from Salt Lake to be treated by this group because I knew the level of care they offer.”
It’s the level of care Libbie and Valerie said has helped them make it through.
“Every Wednesday, they would have a tumor conference and gather the expertise from radiologists, surgeons, oncologists — all the specialists — and discuss my case,” Libbie says. “That was comforting to know they were working together to get me the best results possible.”
The weekly, face-to-face conferences are part of the unified care patients can expect with the new accreditation.
“A multidisciplinary treatment planning approach is critical, so one provider is not working against another,” says Dr. Greg Chipman, a medical oncologist and member of the Center’s leadership committee. “Tumor conferences also give opportunities for other opinions about treatment regimens and plans. And on another level, it keeps everyone practicing good medicine because decisions and treatment choices have to be justified to other practitioners.”
The increased communication also streamlines care for patients and keeps treatment close to home.
[pullquote]“You can’t choose whether you get cancer or not, but you can choose how you will react to it. It’s your choice to have a positive attitude.” —Valerie Pryor, Breast cancer survivor[/pullquote]
“One of the requirements for accreditation is that providers work more as a team,” says Dr. Jared Szymanski, a pathologist and member of the Center’s leadership committee. “The accreditation gives patients confidence that they don’t have to leave home to get world-class care for breast cancer.”
It means there will be friends and family to support patients during a time when it’s needed most. For Valerie — mother of two children under 4 — being far from home wasn’t an option. It was hard enough to leave them for a few days at a time immediately following treatments.
“It’s hard to go through this — especially when you have little kids — but the kids are the ones who help you get through it,” Valerie says.
In addition to the care of skilled and caring physicians, the mother-daughter duo put their positive attitudes to work.
“You can’t choose whether you get cancer or not, but you can choose how you will react to it,” Valerie says. “It’s your choice to have a positive attitude.”
And being a little competitive helps, too.
“There’s a competitive side to Valerie,” Libbie says. “She would think, ‘If mom can do it, then I can do it, too.’”