Medical Oncology Nurse Coordinator
The American Cancer Society reports that over a quarter of a million women diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States this year and almost 6,000 of those cases will be in Arizona. Even though breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in U.S. women, survivorship rates continue to steadily increase. Thanks to advances in early detection and treatment, more and more women diagnosed with breast cancer are alive today.
Jane Northrup-Melendrez is one of those women. Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer in early summer 2018 and today the 75-year-old Gilbert, Arizona resident is happy and healthy.
Jane’s journey with breast cancer started with a bone density scan. While at her physician’s office for the scan, Jane had a mammogram. She was going to have her mammogram the following year, but decided to go ahead and have it since she was already seeing her doctor. Two days later she got the call that there was a mass. A further biopsy confirmed that she had breast cancer in her left breast.
“I decided I wasn’t going to do anything about it,” Jane said. “I had taken care of cancer patients before and I didn’t want to put my family through that. Then I was told that a lot of improvements had been made in breast cancer care so I decided to have the treatments.”
Jane’s primary care physician, who was located in Casa Grande, referred her to Ramon Mourelo, M.D., a board-certified surgeon with Alliance Surgery Arizona. After a quick call, Dr. Mourelo’s staff was able to get Jane in the same day for an appointment. Jane said that Dr. Mourelo took his time with her and explained the entire process and what was ahead of her.
During her lumpectomy to remove the tumor in her left breast, Dr. Mourelo removed some lymph nodes under Jane’s arm to examine and determine the degree of her breast cancer. The lymph nodes were positive for cancer, which meant that Jane had stage 3 breast cancer that had extended beyond the immediate region of the tumor.
After her surgery, Jane had follow-up treatments at Alliance Cancer Care Arizona. She underwent chemotherapy with medical oncologist Carlos E. Arce-Lara, M.D. and radiation therapy with radiation oncologist Ajay Bhatnagar, M.D. Jane said that her treatments were easy and she did not experience any negative or bothersome side effects afterward.
In addition to the treatment Jane received at Alliance Surgery Arizona and Alliance Cancer Care Arizona, she was also taken care of through the Alliance Cancer Support Center, an organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers by providing support programs to assist them with emotional, spiritual, and physical support. Jane received a custom wig and fitting through one of the programs offered by the Support Center.
Today, Jane Northrup-Melendrez feels great. She is happy to be done with her treatment and she has nothing but positive things to say and remember about her time at Alliance Surgery Arizona and Alliance Cancer Care Arizona.
“The entire team at Alliance was wonderful,” Jane said. “They were absolutely loving and I don’t know what I would have done without them. They saved my life.”
“I googled it.”
That is what Brenda Sarmiento did when she noticed something different about her body. The 71-year-old Coolidge, Arizona breast cancer survivor did what most people do when they have a question – she went online.
“I noticed a discharge from my nipple,” Sarmiento said. “Of course, I’m the Google Queen, so I googled it and thought it was probably just a clogged duct, but I thought I’d better see primary care physician.” Good thing she did. Brenda’s PCP performed a mammogram and ordered a biopsy, which tested positive for breast cancer.
“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early summer of 2018,” she said. I was surprised because I just had a mammogram 10 months prior.” Brenda was referred to Ramon Mourelo, M.D. with Alliance Surgery Arizona and she recalled being at ease with him from the very beginning.
“Dr. Mourelo is such a wonderful person,” she said. “What I noticed when I saw Dr. Mourelo for the first time was that he didn’t walk in with a computer and sit at a desk and type as he talked to me, he focused on me. There was another person that took the notes so Dr. Mourelo could just concentrate on me. If I had a question or needed something explained, he was right there. I felt like I was the main concern for him at that point, which made me feel confident that I was going to be able to go through the whole process and not feel alone.”
After her consultation with Dr. Mourelo, it was decided that Brenda would have both her breasts removed. That decision was based on a couple of things. One, Brenda has a history of breast cancer in her family and, two, precancerous cells were found in Brenda’s breast that did not have the mass.
“I always say I’m the mirror image of my mother,” Brenda said. “My mother had breast cancer in her left breast and I had it in my right. I also remembered the advice my mother gave me if I was ever diagnosed with breast cancer. She repeatedly said to be sure I had a good doctor and to have both breasts removed.” Recalling the advice her mother gave her, and wanting to be proactive in reducing the risk of being diagnosed with cancer in her left breast, Brenda decided to have both breasts removed. Dr. Mourelo agreed and supported her choice. When asked about her surgery, Brenda said that she was amazed at how it went and commented that the entire treatment, from the time Dr. Mourelo performed the surgery until the time she saw him afterward, was so much easier than she expected.
“Before the surgery, I was terrified because I knew what the outcome was going to be. I was going to come out not having any breasts,” she said. “Dr. Mourelo, with a smile on his face, talked to me and assured me that everything was going to fine. We also discussed reconstructive surgery and he let me know that I had lots of choices with what I wanted to do next.”
After surgery, Brenda came in for her check-up and saw fellow Alliance physician, Carlos E. Arce-Lara, M.D., medical oncologist and hematologist with Alliance Cancer Care Arizona. Dr. Arce-Lara spoke with Brenda about her follow-up treatment options, including chemotherapy and radiation therapy. They discussed each treatment in detail and what possible outcomes were associated with each. After reviewing all her options, Brenda felt like what would be best for her at the time was to receive radiation therapy. Since medical and radiation oncology were both offered at Alliance Cancer Care Arizona, it was a simple and smooth process to transition Brenda’s care to radiation oncologist Ajay Bhatnagar, M.D.
“The technicians, Dr. Bhatnagar, and everyone who worked together in the Alliance system were absolutely wonderful,” Sarmiento said. “I didn’t have to go to one place to see one person and another place to see another person. I didn’t have to go outside of that circle. They were all talking and working together as a team to gather all the information about me and make the best-educated decision about my treatment.”
When it came to her radiation therapy treatments, Brenda said it similar to her surgery in the fact that Dr. Bhatnagar told her exactly what to expect. Not only was she kept in the loop on what was going to happen, but Brenda said that the staff told her how to take care of herself and her skin. Her treatments were not painful at all and the only side effect she experienced was minor skin irritation under one of her breasts.
Today, Brenda feels great and is continuing to improve. She is thankful she came to Alliance and feels confident that she is going to 100% okay very soon.
“I am so happy I came here for my breast cancer treatment,” Sarmiento said. “I highly recommend Dr. Mourelo, Dr. Bhatnagar, and the entire team at Alliance. If you want the best treatment and to know step-by-step what is going on and who is going to be taking care of you, this is where you need to go. Come here and be a part of the family.”
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that a woman born in the United States today has about a one in eight chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during her lifetime.
June Moore was the one in eight. The 77-year-old Casa Grande resident, who splits her time six months a year between Michigan and Arizona, was diagnosed with breast cancer on December 19, 2018.
A couple of months prior, Moore had her yearly mammogram in October 2018 and the screening came back normal. Even though the results were good, instinctively something did not feel right to June.
She knew she had dense breasts, which can sometimes require additional imaging tests, and was high-risk for cancer due to a history of breast cancer in her family. She went back to her physician and expressed her concern and requested to explore things further. Her physician did not think additional scans were necessary, but he ordered an MRI. It was then discovered that she had a mass in her left breast.
After the discovery, June was sent to get an ultrasound and three biopsies. When the results of the biopsies were inconclusive, her physician sent her to a surgeon, Ramon Mourelo, M.D., for further testing. Dr. Mourelo reviewed Moore’s paperwork and ordered another mammogram, an ultrasound, and five more biopsies. The biopsies came back positive for breast cancer.
“When they told me about my cancer, I felt blessed,” Moore said. “The type of cancer they said I had was nothing like my sister’s. I knew what she went through and it was awful.”
Moore’s identical twin sister had been diagnosed with two different types of breast cancer and had to undergo a double mastectomy. June was diagnosed with non-invasive ductal carcinoma in-situ, meaning that the cancer cells were confined to her ducts or lobules and had not spread.
June’s surgery to get the mass removed was scheduled for January 18, 2019. The day before the surgery, Dr. Mourelo called June with some news.
“Dr. Mourelo called me at home to apologize and tell me that he was sorry, but he thought he was going to have to take my left breast off,” said Moore. “He then gave me three options of what I could do next. He told me I could cancel the surgery, I could arrange for a plastic surgeon to complete the surgery with him, or I could opt for him to leave some breast and not remove the entire breast.”
June was home alone on the call and knew she needed to make a decision if she was going to have surgery the next day. She decided to let Dr. Mourelo know that she trusted him as an expert, she knew he would know what to do for every possible outcome, and felt confident with moving forward with the surgery.
“Dr. Mourelo calmed me down,” said Moore. “He is such a caring doctor who took his time with and explained everything very clearly so I would know what was going to happen to me. He put me at ease and I felt very well taken care of.”
Surgery went well and June went home afterward, feeling no pain.
Today, June feels great and is enjoying life. She had her follow-up check with Dr. Mourelo and he was pleased with how she was doing, so much so that he said he did not need to see her again for another year.
“Dr. Mourelo and the entire staff at Alliance Surgery Arizona was amazing,” Moore said. “I did research on him and he is an excellent doctor, but he is so much more than that. It’s not just his great surgeries, it’s his personality. Some doctors you go to are in a hurry and they want to just see you and go, but not Dr. Mourelo. He sits down with you, discusses things with you, and never hurries you. He was truly wonderful.”