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AHRQ--Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: Advancing Excellence in Health Care

Explore Your Treatment Options: Patients Share Their Stories

Marti Denk

Your Best Rx: Understanding All Your Options

It took 3 months, but Marti Denk and her doctor finally found the best approach to treat her breast cancer. And the 59-year-old Marti is glad she took the extra steps to find the right doctor and explore all her treatment options.

In September 2007, Marti had a mammogram that led to a breast cancer diagnosis. Like a lot of patients, Marti didn’t have a doctor she relied on consistently. But she learned quickly that having a doctor you feel comfortable with is a vital part of good health care.

To learn more about her condition and treatment options, Marti spoke to three different physicians after her diagnosis. The second, a general surgeon, recommended a lumpectomy, or removal of the tumor, followed by radiation. It wasn’t an approach Marti was comfortable with.

“You have a lot more control over your situation than you think,” says breast cancer survivor Marti Denk about understanding your options for treatment.

One of Marti’s colleagues, who had been treated for breast cancer, recommended a breast surgeon in San Francisco. This doctor encouraged Marti to learn more before making any decisions about treatment.

Marti spoke with other patients and breast cancer survivors. She also followed her doctor’s advice to read some books, including Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book.

“I did my homework,” says Marti. Although her form of breast cancer—ductal carcinoma in situ or DCIS—is common, Marti was at higher risk for the cancer to come back or to develop a new breast cancer.

One of the most helpful things was talking with other breast cancer patients. “The anecdotal information from random contacts was more consistent than even what I read in the books,” Denk says.

Marti’s doctor was very helpful through the process, from simply fielding questions to going to bat for her patient. She stepped in when Marti’s health plan refused to cover an MRI to determine whether Marti had cancer in her other breast (she didn’t). Her doctor also suggested she talk with other specialists and referred Marti to a reconstructive surgeon when Marti considered having a double mastectomy (having both breasts removed).

In speaking with other patients, Marti was surprised at the number of women who had reoccurrences of DCIS later on. This became a key factor in her decision to have a double mastectomy. Marti opted to have reconstructive surgery immediately after having both breasts removed, not taking a chance that cancer already was ready to make a return.

As it turned out, Marti did not need to have radiation or chemotherapy. Marti says, “It may be unusual to avoid chemo or radiation, but you might be able to if you are diagnosed early enough.”

And Marti is grateful now she didn’t follow the early suggestion that she have a lumpectomy and radiation. Instead, she avoided unnecessary radiation treatment and feels her journey through breast cancer made her a more informed and confident patient.

“Take one step at a time,” Marti advises. “Don’t jump into treatment before you know the extent of the disease or illness. Talk to others and listen to the stories. The more information and ideas, the more comfortable you become with your own decisions.”

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