Laura Troche, 47, is proactive about her health. She watches her nutrition, gets regular exercise and sees her doctor for routine exams and preventive care. But during the spring of 2020, she noticed a strange pain under her armpits and a bump near her breast area. Her family doctor recommended a mammogram followed by a biopsy.
“When I got the call and learned I had breast cancer, I was shocked, scared and at a loss for words,” Laura says. “I couldn’t believe this was happening, especially in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Laura had a difficult time accepting her diagnosis and wondered if she would need to get a second opinion. Part of her uncertainty stemmed from not knowing what steps to take or what would happen next. Ultimately, she decided to stick with the medical team at Edward Hospital.
“After consulting with my family, I decided to put my trust in the Edward Hospital team and see the plan through,” she says.
Laura was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer, which makes up about 20 to 25 percent of breast cancers. This type of breast cancer tends to be more aggressive and requires chemotherapy in addition to surgery. Her care team decided the best course of treatment would include neoadjuvant chemotherapy, double mastectomy, post-surgical antibody infusions and radiation therapy. She also consulted with lymphedema specialists and will undergo breast reconstruction.
“Once a week, our Multidisciplinary Tumor Board reviews all patient cases,” says Dr. Sonia Baweja, a Medical Hematologist/Oncologist with Edward-Elmhurst Health. “We discussed Laura’s case multiple times to make sure we were all on the same page throughout treatment to ensure the best outcome.”
According to Dr. Baweja, Laura’s case was somewhat unique in how the cancer presented and how it responded to treatment.
“Laura had a significant amount of cancer – the MRI showed cancer in three areas in her breast. Because she had HER2-positive breast cancer, we treated her with chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the tumors. It helped us remove all of the cancer during surgery, which is not common.”
For Laura, the pandemic made treatment and recovery extra challenging.
“Going through breast cancer during the pandemic felt lonely,” she says. “I had to go to most of my chemotherapy treatments alone because they weren’t allowing visitors. It really affected me emotionally.”
Although she was able to lean on her family, Laura says working with her Edward-Elmhurst Health breast cancer nurse navigator, Jessica Schnase, helped her feel less alone and more supported.
“She was phenomenal in assisting me throughout my journey,” Laura says. “I relied on her a lot to understand what was happening to my body and provide me with the guidance I needed. I have such a deep appreciation for everything she did for me.”
Laura also joined a breast cancer support group through Edward-Elmhurst Health.
“It helped being surrounded by women who relate to my situation,” she says. “It was encouraging to hear their stories and experiences. It gave me a sense of comfort and made me feel less alone in my journey.”
As an added level of support, Laura says her care team helped her feel comfortable throughout the process.
“They were always there to help me understand and provide support,” she says. “They focused on me as an individual and gave me as much time as I needed. I felt well cared for throughout the journey.”
Today, Laura is feeling better and getting back to doing the things she loves most in life, such as spending time with her family, daily running and her gym workout routine.
“This experience has given me a clearer perspective on life, and my health and I have a lot more appreciation of things today. I am also more self-aware of health,” she says. “I encourage women to get an annual mammogram, to ask the tough questions and to bring up their concerns to their doctor. I also encourage other women who are going through breast cancer to find a care team that will help them feel comfortable and provide the support they need.”