In early 2008, when Laura Stratte was nursing her youngest child, she began to feel pain in her right breast and arm. “I was nursing, so the doctor just did a manual breast exam and it was normal. Pain isn’t a typical symptom of breast cancer, so the doctor wasn’t alarmed,” said the 36-year-old mother of two. She also had an ultrasound, which was negative.
When the pain got worse and was accompanied by swelling, Stratte went back to her doctor, who ordered another ultrasound. Again, the results were negative. But this time, she stopped nursing and also had a mammogram. “My doctor suggested that I go to the Van Dyke Haebler Center at Columbia St. Mary’s (CSM) because they use digital mammography equipment,” she said.
Stratte, who was in nursing school at the time, had the mammogram on a Wednesday and received a call the next day from Columbia St. Mary’s radiologist Dr. Patrick McWey with the results. “Dr. McWey called me to say he wanted to do a biopsy, and the story unfolded from there,” she said.
Stratte’s biopsy revealed cancerous cells. Dr. McWey then ordered an additional MRI and biopsies, which also revealed cancer. “These tumors were too small to be detected any other way. It really was amazing that he discovered them,” she said.
Because the three areas were distributed widely in her right breast, a lumpectomy was not a good option for Stratte. She was quickly scheduled for a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. “From the time of the mammogram to the time of the surgery, it was only about three weeks. When I had the biopsies, my husband was in the South Pacific. My sister was with me, but it was so much easier to get through it because of the staff at the Van Dyke Haebler Center. Nancy Konegni, the breast health clinician, was very reassuring. She was with me during the procedure and literally held my hand,” Stratte said.
After Stratte’s diagnosis, Deb Theine, a Columbia St. Mary’s nurse navigator who works with breast cancer patients, became a big part of her life. “Once you get that diagnosis, you are in overdrive. You’re just trying to hold it together. She was amazing; she answered my questions, made my appointments, and gave me copies of all my test results, anything I needed. I wouldn’t have gotten through it without her,” Stratte said. “I also have to say that Dr. McWey was wonderful. He has the best bedside manner of any doctor I’ve ever known.”
After surgery, Stratte considered going on Tamoxifen, an oral drug used to treat breast cancer. “My cancer was caught early, but I was told it had a 20 percent chance of spreading to other parts of my body, even after treatment. I have two little kids and I just wanted to consider all the options,” she said.
After meeting with a Columbia St. Mary’s oncologist/ hematologist, she decided to undergo chemotherapy. “The oncologist/hematologist took such a personal approach with me. After he ran some tests, we decided that chemo would be a realistic option,” she said. Now, Stratte is on a yearlong course of Herceptin®, which she is receiving at the Columbia St. Mary’s Cancer Center at Water Tower Medical Commons.
Stratte has since graduated from nursing school and is now working part time at CSM Hospital Columbia. She has high praise for the one-on-one care she has received throughout her experience at Columbia St. Mary’s. “I’m pretty well educated about my health, but I still wonder how I would have gotten through my experience without Deb Theine. She’s become like a mentor to me,” she said.
Stratte also has positive things to say about Columbia St. Mary’s Cancer Center where she will continue to receive treatments until April of next year. “It’s a beautiful facility, looking out over Lake Michigan. And, the nurses are lovely, they do everything for you,” she said. “I have to say, it isn’t just a slogan. The nurses, doctors and staff at Columbia St. Mary’s really do have a passion for patient care.”