Breast Cancer Survivor
Treated for benign breast tumors in 1984
- Diagnosed with breast cancer at age 60 in 2012
- Treated with surgery and radiation using the Calypso breath-hold technique
Pat Norikane Logerwell was grieving her mother’s death, helping her husband recover from major back surgery, and facing her own shoulder surgery when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After researching various cancer treatment centers, she chose to be treated at SCCA. “Everyone at SCCA was right there for me. I couldn’t have asked for better care,” she says.
“I can’t stress enough the strength and perseverance I received from the example of my parents,” says Pat, reflecting on how she kept a positive attitude when diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Pat’s Japanese-American parents, along with her grandparents, lost everything when they were forced to move to internment camps in northern California and then Idaho during WWII. Through determination and hard work, her parents and grandparents eventually made their way back to Washington State after the war.
“Seeing what they went through… I had to appreciate that it’s all part of life,” she adds.
Making the mammogram appointment
Pat had been receiving annual mammograms for almost 30 years, after having a lumpectomy to remove benign tumors from her left breast in 1984. In January 2012, Pat had a routine physical with her new primary care physician. While reviewing her records, the doctor noticed Pat was past due for a mammogram and encouraged her to make an appointment.
When Pat visited his office again three months later, her doctor inquired if she’d had the mammogram. She hadn’t. The first few months of 2012 had been difficult: Pat’s 96-year-old mother died in February, her husband was preparing for back surgery in April, and Pat was scheduled for shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff.
But with her doctor’s second reminder, Pat scheduled a mammogram. When reviewing the mammogram results, the radiologist identified two abnormalities in Pat’s left breast. A week later the biopsy showed that the abnormalities were cancerous. “I was surprised and felt numb in response to the news,” Pat recalls.
Choosing a treatment center
Diagnosed at the age of 60, Pat immediately began researching where she wanted to receive breast cancer treatment. Having worked as a neuropsychological assistant at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals in Florida as well as the Puget Sound, she was no stranger to the field of medicine.
“I’m very picky about my doctors,” Pat says. She knew that for her survival, it was critical to find the best possible care.
As part of her research process, a mutual friend introduced Pat to Pam Davies, a nurse at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) who is also a breast cancer survivor. “Pam didn’t tell me what to do,” Pat says, “but from the very beginning, she emphasized the importance of connecting with a physician I could talk to and with whom I felt comfortable.”
Pat was impressed when she heard about SCCA’s doctor panels at the Breast Cancer Specialty Center, in which a team of breast cancer specialists, including experts in breast cancer surgery, radiation oncology, and medical oncology meet together to discuss options, answer patient questions, and eventually determine the best treatment plan.
“When I heard that Pat had cancer, I was completely freaked out,” says Pat’s husband, Don. “But we met with Dr. Christine Fang and Dr. David Byrd and spent nearly an entire afternoon with them, reviewing their findings and recommendations, and they answered all of our questions. I left convinced, as I am now, that she was in the best possible hands.”
“The people at SCCA are responsive; they encourage you to ask questions and they’re also honest. I was confident that if something went wrong, they would meet the challenge right alongside of me,” Pat says.
Lupus and cancer
One of Pat’s concerns was how the cancer treatment might affect her as someone also diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body. She was informed by Dr. Fang of the possible increased risks with lupus but was relieved to learn that Dr. Fang had a specific plan to tailor her radiation treatment.
“When I meet every patient, in addition to knowing all the details of the cancer, I also need to know about any other aspects of the patient’s health and life that might impact their treatment,” says Dr. Fang. “All of this information helps us form a customized treatment plan for them. In Pat’s situation, she came with a long-standing diagnosis of lupus. Because there is some evidence that patients with lupus may have exaggerated side effects from radiation treatment, Pat and I had frank discussions so that she and her husband were fully informed. I also took her lupus into consideration when designing her radiation plan.”
Pat appreciated the frank discussions and information she received from Dr. Fang: “She didn’t sugar coat anything. But she took lots of precautions and there weren’t any adverse reactions.”
Determining the best treatment
The doctors on Pat’s care team determined that the best treatment for her breast cancer was surgery, followed by six weeks of radiation.
“My surgeon Dr. Byrd, Dr. Fang, and my medical oncologist Dr. Jennifer Specht are all outstanding physicians,” Pat says of her SCCA treatment team. “I would recommend them to anyone I know.”
With Dr. Fang’s help and instruction, Pat used the breath-hold technique during radiation to protect her heart. With a deep breath, Pat held her breath, which caused her lung to push her heart out of the radiation’s path. “The breath-hold technique can significantly minimize the radiation exposure to the heart in breast cancer treatment,” says Dr. Fang. “Our novel method, that utilizes the Calypso system, allows us to do this with accuracy and to precisely track the patient’s position during the entire treatment.”
Dr. Fang mentions that with advances in modern radiotherapy, the risk of developing heart problems after radiation treatment appears to be steadily declining. However, even with these advances, it is still very important to take precautions.
“Our philosophy for treatment remains focused on obtaining the highest chance of cure while striving to lower the risk of long-term side effects as much as possible. I highly recommend that women receive radiation treatment that incorporates some method of protecting surrounding organs but without compromising the treatment of the cancer,” adds Dr. Fang.
During the first few weeks of radiation treatment, Pat recalls feeling apprehensive about the impact of the radiation on her overall health. But when there weren’t any adverse effects, she felt it would be okay.
“Everyone at SCCA was right there for me, I couldn’t have asked for better care. I received the best care possible,” says Pat.
Staying active and involved
While receiving treatment, Pat remained as active as possible. She continued serving on the board of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian American Experience. She also continued working on the Healing Garden at the Fisher House, a “home away from home” for families of veterans receiving care through the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. Pat appreciates that her volunteer work helped keep her connected while she received treatment for breast cancer. “With my volunteer work I get back more than I give. Yes, I give a lot of time and energy, but I get back so much more,” Pat says.
The support of her family and friends was also an important part of Pat’s recovery. As Pat recalls, “one night, as my husband and I were eating a meal that someone had dropped off, we looked at each other and said, ‘This is so wonderful!’ The care and love from our family and friends was amazing.”
Thriving, not just surviving
After Pat’s radiation treatment was finished, she was part of a discussion panel for the engineers who make the Calypso system.
“I read about all the advances in breast cancer research over the years. I was amazed at how hard people are working to make sure the quality of life for breast cancer survivors is good, not just making sure they survive,” she says.
She remains thankful for her primary care doctor's persistence about scheduling the mammogram that led to an early diagnosis.
“I feel truly grateful that my cancer was, and is, manageable. I hope that the research continues so that many more cancer patients can feel the same way.”