A Napa woman diagnosed with breast cancer focuses on the practical and finds strength from Queen of the Valley doctors and staff.
"I'm very glad that when I needed surgery and treatment for my breast cancer that I was lucky to live in Napa and have access to Queen of the Valley," explains Kathryn Tiberend, 54, who was diagnosed early in 2013. She credits her straightforward surgeon
Robert Dunham, MD, with finding a lump that had previously been overlooked in an ultrasound.
"When you hear cancer you really aren't listening to anything else, no matter how smart you are or think you are prepared for it," she says, adding that Dr. Dunham gave her one good piece of advice. "He told me to get a binder that could hold all the paperwork relating to my diagnosis, surgery and treatment, along with information about medications, insurance, disability and so on." Kathryn says organizing that binder gave her something constructive to focus on.
Board-certified oncologist Ari Umutyan worked together with Kathryn's team of physicians to thoroughly map out her treatment options. "Dr. Ari, as his patients call him, gives you as much information as you desire," she says. "He would say, 'You can decide when you have enough information — just tell me when to stop.'"
A few weeks after having a biopsy, Kathryn underwent a lumpectomy for a stage 2 tumor that she says was "fairly good sized but slow growing." She felt fortunate that the surgery showed clean margins and no lymph node involvement.
Kathryn's follow-up treatment included a round of radiation, together with a regimen of medication she will take for five years. "I loved the radiation center at the Queen — it was staffed by some of nicest people that I hope I won't have to see again!"
The medication, however, proved troublesome for Kathryn, who was on the cusp of entering menopause. "My breast cancer was a very high-estrogen positive type, meaning that estrogen feeds it," she explains. "The meds had some unpleasant side effects because of the estrogen in my system, but the chance of the cancer recurring was much too high if I didn't stay on it. So my doctors believed it was a reasonable option for me to undergo a full hysterectomy to remove estrogen."
When her radiation treatment was completed, Kathryn had the hysterectomy and is now better able to tolerate a different but necessary medication. After healing from surgery, she enrolled in the Queen's Cancer Wellness Program, where she met with counselor Steve Wood to discuss stress and sleep issues, and nutritionist Tawnya Dorn-Shine, RD, CDE. "Tawnya really encouraged me to keep track of my food intake and to be more accountable for my diet. I'm 40 to 50 pounds lighter than before the cancer, and I still have a way to go to lose more weight, but I'm healthier now than I was before my diagnosis!"
Kathryn admits she had never been a "gym sort of person" before her breast cancer journey and recovery. But as a cancer patient she was offered 90 days of free access to Synergy Medical Fitness Center. She signed up and never looked back. "I started slowly, doing little bits of time on a treadmill. Now I'm working out at least five days a week on elliptical machines and weight machines. I'm in much better physical shape than before."
She also found support in the Bosom Buddies support group for breast cancer patients, which meets monthly at the Queen's Wellness Center. "All the women who have attended Bosom Buddies truly appreciate what it has done for them. You can feel sort of lost after cancer treatment, but taking advantage of the services at Synergy and the support group makes you stop and realize that you are more than just a patient, more than just cancer. You learn to be strong, and that's a great feeling. Having a sense of humor and funny friends and family all around has also helped me survive."
Kathryn truly felt lucky to live in Napa when she needed care for her cancer. "The Queen is a great hospital with amazing doctors," she says. "It seems as if everyone is continually reviewing my case and paying attention all the time."
She continues to maintain her special binder, keeping all those important papers together. But, she adds, "I hope it becomes a relic at some point!"
For more information about Queen of the Valley Medical Center, click here.