Grateful Patient: Tracy Tottle, Brant Community Cancer Clinic

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Early detection is often a key factor to help with a successful outcome of beating breast cancer.

It made all the difference for Tracy Tottle, a 47-year old Brantford hair stylist, who was diagnosed early during an annual mammogram at the Brant Community Healthcare System (BCHS).

Tracy was in training to participate in her second bodybuilding competition in June 2014, where she proudly placed first in her class. She had only started training for bodybuilding competitions in December 2013, and was enjoying the physical activity.

“I was supposed to go to my mammogram, but put it off until two days after the event,” she said.

Tracy had annual mammograms since the age of 30 because of a family history of breast cancer. The testing had become a part of her regular health regimen. She has her images done in the Digital Mammography department at The Brantford General Hospital, an Ontario Breast Screening Program site that ensures high-quality mammography services and meets Canadian standards for the early detection of small, invasive cancers.

After her mammogram, Tracy received a call to return to The Brantford General for a repeat mammogram. She became concerned when her family physician called her at home, asking Tracy to come in for an appointment after the second test. The doctor believed that there was calcification that was showing on the mammogram images and scheduled a biopsy for the following week in order to confirm.

“The surgeon had a hard time finding the spot because it was so small – which was good,” she said.

Even so, Tracy said it was difficult to wait for the results of the biopsy. Her family physician called – during her own vacation time – to let Tracy know the cells that were retrieved during the biopsy were indeed pre-cancerous.

Tracy was then referred to BCHS surgeon Dr. Walter Pawliwec for a lumpectomy to remove the pre-cancerous cells. After consulting with Dr. Pawliwec and discussing what was involved in the lumpectomy procedure, the surgery was booked for the end of July in 2014. Tracy, still thinking in terms of her physical training schedule, was relieved to think she would be able to recover from the surgery in enough time to continue training and be able to compete in a November 2014 bodybuilding contest.

“I was mentally prepared, thinking that recovery is pretty quick with a lumpectomy,” said Tracy. “My mom had one and recovered quickly, so I thought I could still compete in November.”

Everything was moving along smoothly when, the day before her lumpectomy surgery, Tracy received a phone call to say that surgery had been cancelled and instead, a second biopsy would be done. More pre-cancerous cells had been discovered and since they weren’t all located in a central mass, the best way to remove them was to perform a mastectomy to remove her left breast.

Though it wasn’t something she wanted to hear, Tracy considered that if she required a mastectomy, she was going to be proactive and have both breasts removed at the same time as a preventative measure.

“I thought it was best to have a double mastectomy and put implants in at the same time,” she said.

Her surgery in October 2014 saw both breasts removed and skin expanders implanted to make room for the breast enhancements that were implanted during a March 2015 surgery.

Tracy didn’t require radiation or chemotherapy because her pre-cancerous cells were discovered at such an early stage. Her physician said it could have taken four to five years for those cells to develop into a lump large enough to be detected during a physical examination.

“I think knowing that it was at its earliest stage, I felt pretty good about that.”

Her recovery required Tracy to stay away from the gym for a couple of weeks, but she returned to her regular training schedule about six weeks later, anxious to start preparing for her next competition.

“It feels good just to know none of this set me back,” said Tracy. “In a year, I’ll be back on stage, more conditioned than I was.”

Having access to the Ontario Breast Screening Program at the Brant Community Healthcare System helped Tracy to be diagnosed, treated and begin her recovery in a relatively short time.

Patients who visit the Digital Mammography area at The Brantford General Hospital have been benefitting from state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment for more than three years, and the service and care continues to be leading edge with the addition of new upgrades to the digital system.

Mammography at The Brantford General has been completely digital since 2012, thanks to a transformative donation from community corporate partner, SC Johnson, and has since received further support from donors to the Brant Community Healthcare System (BCHS) Foundation to purchase additional components that will provide even greater diagnostic capabilities.

“These new technologies allow for an earlier and significantly clearer diagnosis,” said Dr. Mark Lighter, one of eight radiologists at the hospital.

The new technology offers computer-assisted diagnosis, which supports radiologists with a second look at the hundreds of images they look at each day.

The addition of contrast-enhanced imaging capability is a very big step forward in digital mammography. Contrast-enhanced imaging is used to confirm findings when a primary screening is inconclusive, and the results are available very quickly. The Brant Community Healthcare System is one of only a few hospitals in Canada to offer this specialized diagnostic service.

Nancy Wheeler, Group Leader of Diagnostic Imaging at the BCHS, said the upgrades increase the ability of doctors to diagnose breast abnormalities and assist surgeons by pin-pointing locations and sizes of tumors. That leads to less anxiety for patients who can be assured their diagnosis is clear and concise.

“Our role in imaging is incredibly important,” said Wheeler. “We are responsible for the diagnosis of our patients, and it is important to us to have the proper tools to effectively assess what we are seeing.”

Another benefit is the increase in the number of screenings that can be done with the faster equipment. Wheeler said the Digital Mammography service has been able to increase the number of patients seen from three per hour to four per hour, which is helping to more quickly address the number of breast cancer patients and screenings. This is a particularly important factor in Brant, where there is a high rate of breast cancer.

Digital Mammography at the BCHS is a busy place, with 14,000 exams done each year. Most of the exams are for screening purposes, but some are diagnoses for women who have had a lump detected.

“For a hospital our size, that’s quite a significant volume,” said Wheeler.

Wheeler said that while patients won’t directly notice many of the differences made by the upgrades, there is a significant benefit to everyone involved. Having the best equipment available for diagnosis positively impacts the services offered at the Brant Community Cancer Clinic located within The Brantford General Hospital.

Wheeler’s job is to ensure the services in Diagnostic Imaging have the most appropriate equipment and that staff is expertly trained and following best practice guidelines. She is involved in the five-year capital planning process at the BCHS and every 12 months, she reviews patient needs and technology available in the Digital Imaging industry and advocates for investment in state-of-the-art equipment to support exemplary patient-centred care at the BCHS. This is a difficult and expensive task when there is a seven to twelve year replacement period for all the various pieces of equipment.

“We are so grateful for the many donors that invest in patient equipment at the BCHS,” said Wheeler. “With donor support, we are able to provide leading edge diagnostic care to the citizens of our community.”

Dr. Lighter explained the funding for this type of equipment isn’t provided for by the government, so without donors, it is very difficult to be able to obtain such modern, effective and efficient diagnostic equipment.

“We’re justifiably proud to be working with state-of-the-art equipment,” he said. “We are absolutely grateful for our amazing donors that have contributed so generously to our hospital over the years. Their investment has provided us with leading edge technology.”

To make a donation, click here or call 519-751-5510.

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