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In the 25 years that Diana Robinson has been with her partner Jan, they've shared everything - a love of gardening, social and family time, as well as boating at their New Jersey beach home. Cancer was not supposed to be on that list.
"We found out within a half hour of each other that we both had cancer."
Then in June 2008, both women got call backs after routine mammograms. After 2 unsuccessful biopsies, Diana was told she had breast cancer. Jan learned that not only did she have breast cancer, but an x-ray also revealed a lump on her lung. "We found out within a half hour of each other that we both had cancer," recalled Diana.
Referred by several friends to Fox Chase, the women decided to team up with their treatment, making appointments together, and keeping each other company on the 4-hour round-trip drive from their home.
Although her diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is considered both non-invasive and highly treatable, Diana did not want to go through the emotional roller coaster and physical trauma of having a recurrence. After careful thought and much consideration, she decided to undergo a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. "I did my research," said Diana, a retired assistant director of nurses at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. "I knew there was a chance that my cancer could recur. Surgery would take care of everything at once."
Surgery was scheduled for December 22, 2008. Diana felt confident in her decision and decided to proceed with a family trip with her daughters and granddaughters to Italy prior to surgery. "Of course they knew I had cancer. But I felt fine and I knew the surgery would take care of things, so we had a wonderful time together."
"I never have to think about breast cancer again."
Diana's treatment team included Neal S. Topham, MD, FACS, chief, plastic and reconstructive surgery at Fox Chase, and Richard J. Bleicher, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase who specializes in breast cancer. The 10-hour procedure was a complete success. "It turned out that I am allergic to morphine - but the staff helped manage my pain using alternative methods. The good part is that I never have to think about breast cancer again. It is gone." Jan's treatments, a lumpectomy to remove the tumor from her breast tissue, followed by radiation and chemotherapy, and surgery to remove a section of her lung, were also a success.
"Both of our experiences at Fox Chase were very positive."
"They were so sweet to us both," said Diana. "As a nurse, I know what good nursing is about. The nurses and other Fox Chase staff were perfect. They showed absolute patience, competency and efficiency. I remember one time I got mixed up about an appointment - I was upset because Jan was in surgery, and I really wasn't thinking clearly. But they took me anyway, and were so lovely to this not-so-calm lady. Both of our experiences at Fox Chase were very positive."
Two years later, both women are doing well. "It's just one of those things. It's become for me, and for Jan, something one deals with, and then it's over. We're fortunate; there are a lot worse things in life than a cured cancer."
"Cancer has brought us even closer."
Still, the diagnosis has heft to it, especially when it comes in pairs. These days, Diana finds she doesn't postpone fun, having become more relaxed about keeping balance in her life. The couple takes at least one big trip a year together, most recently cruising through Greece and Italy. They agree, "Cancer has brought us even closer."
"Go to the very best doctors right away. For us that was Fox Chase."
As to advice she offers other women facing the diagnosis of breast cancer, Diana doesn't hesitate. "Don't panic. Do your research and go to the very best doctors right away. For us that was Fox Chase. Don't go into denial. Face it, get your treatment over with, and then you can more forward and have peace of mind."