By Sara Reeve
Tracy Manzaneras was 35 years old when she had a bilateral mastectomy at the USC Norris Cancer Hospital.
Manzaneras said her physicians guided her through her specially designed care plan: "From the moment I came here to USC, my doctors put me through a treatment plan that was tailored to fit me. I knew that they weren't going to let me die at 35—it wasn't an option. They gave me the will to fight."
Manzaneras and another USC Norris Cancer Hospital patient, Eileen Seymour, shared their personal stories of living with breast cancer at the 2nd annual Breast Cancer Awareness Day on Oct. 3.
The event, hosted by the USC Norris Cancer Hospital and The Doctors of USC featured a community discussion, cancer screening assessments and free digital mammogram registrations.
The event attracted about 100 attendees to the Aresty Auditorium and featured talks from Pulin Sheth, assistant professor of radiology; Debu Tripathy, professor of medicine and co-leader of the Women's Cancer Program at USC Norris Cancer Hospital; Stephen Sener, professor of clinical surgery and chief of the division of surgical oncology; and Christy Russell, associate professor of medicine and co-director of the USC Norris Cancer Center and Hospital Breast Center.
The physician speakers focused on cancer prevention and early intervention, as well as on the need for personal, individualized treatment plans for each patient. "When we see someone who is being screened for breast cancer, we look at environmental, genetic and lifestyle factors to customize a program for how they should undergo surveillance," said Tripathy. "The treatment of breast cancer is multidisciplinary, and that's why it is so important that we come together as a team here, because there are many different areas of expertise that have to weigh in on a proper diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer."
Sener emphasized the importance of early intervention by stressing the high survival rates for women whose cancers were found and treated while still small: "Size matters when it comes to breast cancer survival—the smaller the cancer, the more likely you are to survive. In aggressive screening programs, the average cancer found is one-half inch or smaller, and the survival rate is 85, 90 percent and above."
General information about genetic counseling and its usefulness for women concerned about their risk of breast cancer was introduced by Russell, who explained the need for a thorough family history.
"For women who get breast cancer, 90 percent of them don't have strong risk factors," said Russell. "But when you are talking with your doctor about your risk, there are questions to ask about your family. How many cases of breast cancer have occurred anywhere in your family—not just with your mother or sisters, but your mother's sisters, your mother's mother, and all of her sisters. And your dad—how many sisters did he have and did any of them have breast cancer?"
Patient speakers Manzaneras and Seymour helped make the physicians' statistics real for the audience.
Seymour, who held back tears as she read her story, told the audience that she thought she was doing everything right—eating healthy, exercising, etc.—when she found a lump in her breast five years ago. Her journey had its ups and downs but she ultimately found strength through volunteering at Norris to help other patients navigate their own journey with cancer.
"I know I have been blessed to have been treated here at Norris, where new medications, surgeries and clinical trials are available to patients," said Seymour. "The nicest compliment I can give the hospital, from the valet to the day hospital, to mammogram services—they all work together to help us feel as normal as possible during our stay."
Closing the seminar, Sheth left the audience with a crucial message that recurred throughout the day. "Early detection is your best protection," he said.