BEATING BREAST CANCER
with a simple gift card and a will to survive
Georgia member Rodgina “Gina” Roberts, of Conyers, was so irritated. She was one of the first to come in for a mammogram on this day – almost a year ago.
Yet, she was still one of the last sitting in the waiting room, looking for her okay to leave. “I was impatient,” Gina said. “I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to get home. I’ve got things to do.’”
Of course, cancer did not care about her plans.
Her journey in her battle against breast cancer started with a $500 gift card, part of a Kaiser Permanente employer wellness program to remind members to do preventive check-ups. She had missed her last mammogram because she didn’t have a history of breast cancer, and “quite frankly, I was busy with work and my life — and I didn’t want to take the time to go get one.”
Her husband, Adam, gently nudged her to reschedule. Finally, she relented.
She would have never guessed that getting that rescheduled mammogram would save her life. “If it hadn’t been for Kaiser’s pre-screening options, (and) the $500 gift card, who knows where I would be today.”
But in the beginning, she had no fear of bad news. Back in the waiting room, she was finally called to come talk with a radiologist about her diagnostic mammogram. An elementary school nurse in Rockdale County, she realized this was not the typical routine – but she also knew that there were all kinds of non-scary reasons for such chats.
It wasn’t until the radiologist started talking glass shard-like shapes and other abnormalities, that she knew something was wrong.
“What exactly are you saying,” she said slowly.
“I think there’s a very good chance you have cancer,” he said.
She started to cry, and asked for Adam to join her in the conversation. The rest of the conversation was a blur, and as they got up to leave, she stumbled and started to collapse from the stress. “I’m not a dramatic person, but I was so overwhelmed,” she said recently. “I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it.”
She endured the biopsy only by focusing on the kind nurse, whose hand gently stayed on her shoulder during the entire procedure — as she cried in the darkened, still room.
Gina was confirmed to have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDS) — the most common form of breast cancer, representing 80 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses.
In her case, it was also a sneaky cancer, not detected on the surface of the breast or through regular ultrasound.
However, Gina learned quickly the power of integrated care at Kaiser Permanente.
She — along with her daughters and her mom met with a multi-disciplinary team – oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, and even a psychiatrist, who later helped Gina wrestle with all of the questions regarding why this happened to her.
“At the time of the meeting, (the psychiatrist) said, ‘You’re really positive now, but there might be a point where you need to talk to someone,’” Gina said. “I was so confident she was wrong, I didn’t even take time to look at her card.”
“But later, there were times when I felt so low, and I really needed to talk to someone. Thank God I found her card in my binder of information I got from that initial meeting.”
Working with the multi-disciplinary team, Gina and her family developed her treatment plan. “The more I felt I had a plan,” she said, “the better I felt I could deal with all of this.”
Gina decided to have a bilateral mastectomy on August 3, 2017, performed by Georgia Region breast surgeon Shelly Ahmann, M.D., and then completed chemotherapy with the support of nurse Denise Gates- Baker – ringing the survivor bell on November 16, 2017. Now on Tamoxifen, she has more than an 85 percent chance of the cancer never returning.
“The road hasn’t been an easy one,” she wrote in a letter to Kaiser Permanente. “I have no hair and no breasts, but that will come in due time. The most important thing is that I have my life.”
Nowadays, she is doing the next steps toward reconstructive surgery, working with Georgia Region plastic surgeon Max Yeslev, M.D. Gina is back to playing with her 3-year-old grandson, Luke, who cannot remember a time when she had hair.
A member now for three years, Gina remains a steadfast fan of Kaiser Permanente. Recently — while going through chemo — her primary physician, Daniel Lopez, M.D., called to stop her from coming in for an office visit. Worried about her reduced immunity during flu season, he suggested they do a telephone conference instead.
“Who does that? No one does that. No one cares that much,” she said. “Except Kaiser…Its care is simply bar none.”
For more information about the Kaiser Permanente Wellness Program, click here.