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Brenda Jones Tompkins: Cancer Patient Looks Back With Gratitude

Publication: Fort Worth Star-Telegram

By: Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Following her husband's advice, she called her gynecologist to discuss the symptom.

"I wasn't worried," says the 69-year-old Weatherford resident. "I assumed it was from a cyst due to my fibrocystic breast disease. I always had an annual mammogram, sometimes followed by a sonogram. It would always turn out to be nothing."

After consulting with her gynecologist, Brenda was referred to Dr. Jennifer Snow, a breast surgeon at Texas Breast Specialists–Southwest Fort Worth, a part of Texas Oncology. The surgeon was highly recommended by other women who had breast procedures.

"I remember pulling into the parking lot, seeing the Texas Oncology sign and thinking 'well, I won't need that,'" recalls Brenda, who dismissed any thoughts of cancer.

Early, But Not Easy Detection

Her initial diagnostic mammogram didn't reveal anything suspicious. A sonogram was also inconclusive. But a MRI-guided breast biopsy revealed masses in both breasts.

Brenda received the results of the biopsy on Memorial Day weekend. She was diagnosed with stage I invasive ductal carcinoma in the left breast and ductal carcinoma in situ in the right breast. Both were estrogen receptor positive.

Thanks to advanced imaging techniques, the hard-to-find cancers were discovered, and Brenda was promptly referred for treatment.

Brenda chose to undergo a bilateral mastectomy because the cancer was in both breasts and not detectable on a mammogram.

"I wanted to reduce my chances of a recurrence," she explains.

Dr. Snow performed the surgery on June 1—a week after the diagnosis. Brenda's cancers were small, but time became a factor in her treatment for another reason.

Fighting For Her Mom

Brenda's 94-year-old mother suffered from congestive heart failure and her health was rapidly declining. After learning about her daughter's breast cancer, she had a heart attack.

"I was just so worried about my mother, I asked the people at Texas Breast Specialists if they could do my surgery as soon as possible," Brenda remembers. "I wanted to get well and spend my mother's remaining days with her." The compassionate team accommodated the request.

"I was so fortunate. Dr. Snow came back from vacation and did the surgery the next day," the patient says. "She was so amazing about coordinating with the plastic surgeon so the process went quickly."

A quick prayer, recited with the surgeon prior to the operation, calmed Brenda's nerves.

"I absolutely love Dr. Snow," Brenda says. "She's so knowledgeable and kind. I had total confidence in her and wasn't worried at all. You just feel so good about someone who is so caring."

Immediately after the mastectomy procedures were complete, a plastic surgeon began reconstructive surgery. Physical therapy improved Brenda's range of motion and quickened her recovery.

"At first, I didn't know how much I could raise my arm and how much lifting was harmful," Brenda admits. "I didn't want to damage something and need repair."

The Gift of Time

The extra effort made by Texas Oncology physicians made a huge difference in her physical and emotional well-being.

"Everyone at Texas Oncology was so gracious about working me in so I could be with my mother and that helped me get back to normal," she adds.

Brenda was back on her feet in a week and able to visit her mother who lived on an adjacent property. The ailing heart patient died three months after her daughter's cancer surgery.

"I thanked both the surgeons for giving me time with my mother who was declining," the breast cancer survivor continues. "It allowed me to take my mind off myself and care for her."

Brenda also credits her family, including her husband, daughters, brother and cousin, for helping her recover in record speed. "They were the best doctor and nurse, and treated me with comfort and care," she says recalling how they monitored her drains and assisted with personal grooming. "They did everything."

Looking Back With Gratitude

Today, the active grandmother returns to Texas Oncology regularly to check in with medical oncologist Dr. Patrick Griffin. Because the cancers were small and Brenda's breasts were removed, chemotherapy and radiation treatments were not necessary. To lower the risk of reoccurrence, she takes an aromatase inhibitor, which stops the production of estrogen in postmenopausal women.

Looking back on the experience, Brenda believes noticing the blood on her shirt saved her life. A mammogram did not detect her cancer—a reality that scares her friends who get the test routinely.

"When it came to the risk calculation for breast cancer, I was very low on the list. So, don't just look at a risk factor chart and think you have no worries," she cautions. "Along with mammography, watch yourself. I should have gone to the doctor three months earlier when I first had symptoms."

And she advises women to find a health care facility that will respond quickly if you have a concern.

"I got all the support in the world. I couldn't believe that I was so blessed to have so many wonderful people help me through this," Brenda says. "It was more than I could hope for."

The hustle it took to get her surgery and treatment done quickly is something the appreciative patient will never forget.

"The people at Texas Oncology are just amazing," Brenda reiterates. "They're loving, caring and giving. When you walk through the door, you're not a number. Your needs are totally met."

Read the full story from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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