Beaufort resident Nelle Pender was never one to worry about her annual mammogram. Accustomed to receiving the usual “negative” test results, she didn’t sweat it when she got a call from a staff nurse at Beaufort Memorial Hospital requesting she return to the imaging center for a more thorough examination.
“I wasn’t overly concerned,” Pender recalled. “I was sure there wasn’t going to be a problem.”
But the diagnostic mammogram showed an abnormality. A biopsy confirmed she had breast cancer. Over the next eight months, Pender would make dozens of trips to Beaufort Memorial Hospital and the Keyserling Cancer Center. She met with a surgeon and a medical oncologist, had numerous tests and scans, underwent a double mastectomy and received four rounds of chemotherapy.
“I still feel I made the right decision,” Pender said. “I was glad to have the choice, but I wanted to get it over and done with.”
Next Sunday, June 5 — National Cancer Survivor Day — Pender will celebrate with thousands of other Americans who have beat the disease.
“Today, a diagnosis of cancer is not a death sentence,” said Constance Duke, cancer program director for Beaufort Memorial Hospital. “More than 60 percent of patients are cured of cancer, and the statistics are getting better every year.”
Since BMH opened the cancer center five years ago, the Duke-affiliated facility has treated more than a 1,000 patients with a variety of diseases, including lymphoma, colon, breast, lung and prostate cancers.
At Keyserling, physicians and specialists encompassing a broad range of disciplines work as a team to ensure coordinated and seamless care.
“It used to be one physician making all the decisions,” BMH radiation oncologist Dr. James McNab. “That’s been the biggest change I’ve seen in cancer care since I began my career 30 years ago. It’s become an integrated process. The result has been improved outcomes.”
To facilitate the team approach to treatment, BMH established a tumor board that meets every two weeks to review case histories. The group can include surgeons, pathologists, medical and radiation oncologists, dieticians, physical therapists, social workers and primary care physicians, along with any number of specialists from urologists to gynecologists depending on the types of cancer in question.
“Treating cancer is not just a process confined to some specific organ,” McNab said. “The disease has to be attacked from multiple directions.”
For Pender, the process began with a diagnostic mammography, followed by an ultrasound and needle biopsy. To pinpoint the location of the tumor and determine if it had spread beyond her breast, her surgeon, Dr. Edward Burrus, ordered an MRI, a CAT scan and PET scan. She also met with medical oncologist Dr. Majd Chahin.
“It’s a joint effort involving all the specialists,” Burrus said. “The treatment is tailored to fit the patient’s medical needs and desires.”
Last fall, the Duke-affiliated hospital received accreditation from the prestigious Commission on Cancer, earning a special commendation for achieving excellence in all eight core areas of cancer care. Only 25 percent of the 5,500 cancer programs in the country are granted the commission’s stamp of approval.
“I can’t say enough about the Keyserling Cancer Center,” said Pender. “Everyone was so caring and helpful — from the nurse who takes your blood to the people who greet you when you walk in the door.”