Patti Kostrubiak thinks fondly of her father, with whom she enjoys a strong relationship. Proud of her courageous fire-fighting dad, she dreamed of someday following in his footsteps. Then about two years ago, Patti was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Overcoming her challenges gave her a new outlook on life. “I’ve always wanted to be a firefighter like my dad. Now I’m doing it,” she said. “When I faced breast cancer, I realized more than ever you’ve got to fulfill your dreams when you can.”
Patti’s battle against cancer began at age 39. During a routine exam, her doctor noticed a lump and instructed her to get a mammogram. The test showed a tumor. An imaging technique, breast ultrasound, was used to pinpoint the tumor’s location. It’s especially effective when screening dense breasts common in younger women. Next, her surgeon, Dr. Thomas J. Coyle, conducted a breast biopsy to remove the tumor.
“I’ll never forget that day,” Patti said. “Dr. Coyle looked me straight in the eye and said the lump they removed was cancerous.
That’s where my journey with cancer began.” Soon thereafter, Patti underwent a lumpectomy, the extraction of the tumor and surrounding tissue.
Following recovery from surgery, Patti met with oncologist Dr. Mitchell B. Alden and radiation oncologist Dr. Martin C. Hightower. She was impressed with their expertise and the time they took to explain her options. Still, Patti sought a second opinion. “I thought I was going to die, so I thought I needed a big city hospital for the best care.” She went to Fox Chase Cancer Center. Thanks to Grand View’s affiliation, her physician was able to promptly schedule her an appointment at Fox Chase.
“Doctors at Fox Chase agreed with everything Grand View was doing,” Patti said. “Every part of the recommended treatment, from chemo to radiation therapy to medical management, was available just five miles from my home.”
That meant a great deal to Patti, wife and mother of children ages 15 and 12. She most feared chemotherapy and how it would affect her ability to care for her family. She kept thinking, “Oh my God, who’s going to take care of my kids, my husband?”
Chemotherapy went better than expected; Patti never got ill throughout treatment. Support she received from her doctors and nurses kept her spirits up. “The nurses gave me advice on how to talk with my kids,” she said. “They had little tricks for everything, from make-up to eating several small meals to reduce nausea.”
By November, Patti had lost her hair, eyebrows and lashes. At Grand View, she attended “Look Good, Feel Better,” a program by the American Cancer Society, and received a free $200 make-up kit donated by cosmetic firms. She also had the opportunity to meet other cancer survivors.
After chemotherapy, Patti began radiation therapy and was able to resume work. “I received radiation treatment at 6 am and was at work by 7:30. It was a piece of cake.” While receiving radiation therapy, she met Pat Parsons, RN, clinical trials coordinator, who enrolled her in one of the clinical trials Grand View participates in through its Fox Chase affiliation.
Because Patti was part of the control group, she did not receive the drug initially but benefited from the additional testing and monitoring. Costs were paid by the pharmaceutical company sponsoring the trial. Initial trial results showed the medication decreased the recurrence of the disease from 50 to 22 percent, so the trial sponsor made the drug available to study participants and Patti obtained the medication within a couple of weeks.
Throughout her treatment, Patti was impressed by the personalized care and attention she received. “I appreciated the one-to-one attention. I was scared I’d get lost in the shuffle at a larger hospital, but not at Grand View,” Patti said. “At first, I didn’t realize what Grand View had to offer to cancer patients. I can tell you now. It’s top-of-the-line.”
a lifetime of experience | Lorna Wyatt , RN | Grand View Hospital
The experience of patients receiving chemotherapy was very different when registered nurse Lorna Wyatt began working at Grand View’s Medical Oncology Unit in 1984. Although treatment was effective, it often made patients ill, weak and susceptible to infection-causing viruses and bacteria. “Fortunately for Patti, great strides have been made. Grand View has always been on the cutting edge of cancer care,” Lorna said.
Dramatic improvements in medical treatment have greatly reduced the incidence of nausea and related symptoms. New medications stimulate bone marrow to produce white blood cells, so patients can withstand more aggressive treatment while reducing the risk of infection. New technology enables drugs to attack tumors directly, reducing the ill effect to healthy cells. Patients feel better, and many are able to work and perform regular activities.
“Patients often dread chemo and then are pleasantly surprised to learn it’s not as bad as they had feared,” Lorna said. “With today’s available treatment, cancer is more of a chronic illness than a death sentence. Even so, it changes one’s life and can be emotionally daunting.” Lorna is continually inspired by her patients’ courage and impressed by the love and support of their families.
“This is the most rewarding job you could possibly have,” Lorna said, noting her work has made her life richer. “I’ve gotten so much more than I’ve given. It’s very rewarding. It’s always an honor.”