Portsmouth, Va. (NNS) -- Now a civil service employee at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP), Patricia LaGrand thinks back to the days when she was a patient there, suddenly fighting for her life. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month, LaGrand reflected on Oct. 21 about the rapid changes in her health that brought the diagnosis of stage two breast cancer in the summer of 2005.
One July morning, then a hospital corpsman first class stationed at Keflavik, Iceland, LaGrand was going through her routine of a three-mile run before work.
"That particular morning I decided to do a self-exam, and viola, there it was under my left breast, it felt like the size of a quarter," said LaGrand. "The ironic thing for me is that in February for my overseas screening, I had a mammogram and a clinic breast exam done, and there was nothing there."
At the time, Naval Hospital Keflavik was closing and could not offer the procedures needed. LaGrand was referred to a local clinic for a mammogram and ultrasound where it was confirmed.
"The doctor said to me, 'this classification is 99.9 percent that you have breast cancer,'" she said. "So from February 2005 to July 2005 I had developed a two-cm mass."
After being medically evacuated from Keflavik to NMCP, LaGrand arrived at the medical center within two hours of landing at a local airport.
"I came straight to the breast clinic," LaGrand said. "Dr. Burke stopped what she was doing and took me in for another mammogram and confirmed that it was stage two breast cancer."
Her first surgery was scheduled for Sept. 9, and from there went on to her treatment.
"I had six-months of chemotherapy and six-weeks of radiation," LaGrand said. "I had all my treatments here. Everybody was outstanding."
LaGrand had no family history of breast cancer and had no signs, such as tenderness, lump or thickening towards the under arm area or change in texture. She stresses the importance of self-breast exams, as she is now nine-years cancer free.
Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Oxner, a surgical oncologist at NMCP, recommends that self-breast exams be performed monthly.
"We generally recommend five-to-seven days after a woman's menstrual cycle has ended to keep the exam consistent at the same time every month; and to do it during and after their shower to visualize and examine both breasts thoroughly," Oxner said. Red flags to look for during the exam include a mass, nipple discharge, nipple or skin retraction or dimpling, redness or swelling of the breast that highlights skin pores.
"If there are any concerns or if they find something, they should notify their primary care manager immediately so they can be evaluated," said Oxner. "The provider can then decide on appropriate follow-up, referral or imaging."
NMCP's Breast Clinic treats approximately 75 to 100 new breast cancer cases a year, in addition to survivors who are being followed after diagnosis. The risk of breast cancer increases after age 40, but the majority of patients treated at NMCP are between 50 and 60 years old. There are an increasing number of pre menopausal women and several in their 30s who are being treated as well.
Oxner said NMCP provides patients with the latest multidisciplinary, evidence-based cancer care. When appropriate for patients, surgeons can offer breast conservation techniques that include skin sparing or nipple sparing mastectomies.
According to Oxner, the Breast Clinic functions differently than any other clinic in the hospital, helping the patient manage their care throughout the process.
"Our nurses provide patient navigation throughout their care, carrying our patients smoothly through their diagnosis, work-up and treatment," said Oxner. "We have top-notch general surgeons and surgical oncologists who provide patient-centered, multidisciplinary care. The surgeons collaborate well with our colleagues in radiology, radiation oncology and medical oncology."
Oxner added that "NMCP is accredited by the Commission on Cancer, which holds us to the highest standards of cancer care."
During 2014, approximately 232,670 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women, and another 2,150 cases diagnosed in men. More than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors are living in the United States.