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Breast Cancer Survivor Keum Ja Bae

Keum Ja Bae

  • Regular screening mammogram detected a spot on left breast
  • Diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ
  • Treated with lumpectomy and radiation therapy

Diligent about getting her annual mammograms for 20 years, Keum Ja Bae was surprised when she received a letter requesting she have a follow-up mammogram in March 2012. She had been healthy her entire life.

Keum’s repeat mammogram results led her doctor to perform a biopsy on a spot on her left breast. The biopsy, performed at UW Medicine’s Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, revealed ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS).

What Is DCIS?

DCIS is an early-stage cancer that is confined to in the milk ducts in the breast and hasn't spread to other breast tissue. It is diagnosed more frequently these days because of increased rates of screening mammograms. While DCIS isn't life threatening, treatment to prevent the cancer from becoming invasive is important. Most women are treated with breast-conserving surgery, such as lumpectomy, and radiation.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Keum said about receiving the diagnosis. She called her daughter, Hye-Kung Kang, who teaches at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.

“After a lot of internet searches and talking to several people at Columbia Medical School, Dr. Ben Anderson at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and UW Medicine was unanimously recognized as the best breast surgeon in Seattle,” Hye-Kung said. Ben Anderson, MD, is a professor of surgery at University of Washington School of Medicine.

Keum received many other recommendations from friends and other people, but she chose to meet Dr. Anderson, bringing her entire family along to her appointment.

“I’ve lived in Seattle for 30 years, and [before this] I had no idea that a cancer center existed in Seattle,” Keum said.

Treatment for DCIS

Keum has no history of breast cancer in her family, though her mother died of nasal cancer. Once she was at SCCA, Dr. Anderson ordered a biopsy of Keum’s DCIS as well as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to look for other signs of cancer.

He explained to Keum that her treatment would involve having an operation to remove the cancer followed by a standard course of external-beam radiation therapy.

Keum had lumpectomy surgery and four weeks later began a six-week course of radiation treatment with Janice Kim, MD, radiation oncologist at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. “The treatment went very well and was not as difficult as I had expected,” Keum said. “I was very pleased with Dr. Kim's care and was particularly happy that she was able to communicate with me in my native language, Korean.”

Impressed by SCCA

“The first time I went to SCCA, I was impressed by each and every staff member, who was kind and efficient and speedy,” Keum said. “They took very good care of me. They made me feel very comfortable. I could tell that the staff members really care about patients, and they seem very intelligent, so they made me feel at ease. I thank God for letting me meet Dr. Anderson, who is very well known. I also thank the staff members. They really took time to listen to me and answered every question.”

Looking Back Cancer-Free

When she was diagnosed, Keum was afraid and very nervous about what would happen. “I didn’t imagine the process was going to be so comfortable and easy going,” she said. “The hardest part was all the procedures I had to go through before the operation. The post-surgery pain was hard also.”

“Some people said I had pre-cancer, but it went away within a year. Some people are reluctant [to get treatment for this condition]. They’ve been saying that with pre-cancer you don’t have to get the treatment. But now I know that you need to get treatment. Some people said you could heal with diet and exercise. Some people said they were healed without medical treatment. But I feel that you should do what the doctor recommends you do,” Keum said.

Keum used to be a pastor. Now she is an active member of a Korean church whose membership is comprised of retired pastors and their spouses. She would like to share her experience with the Korean community to let them know that “if you have breast cancer, there is an excellent care provider for you with SCCA. Meet with Dr. Anderson’s team,” she said. “I’m healed.”

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