PATIENT STORY: How Christine Conquered Breast Cancer—Twice!

March 12th, 2020

In 2003, a routine mammogram revealed a tiny spot of cancer on Christine Detwiler Neff’s left breast. After undergoing a lumpectomy and radiation therapy, Neff conquered cancer. Since then, she has paid even closer attention to her health.

“I got my mammogram each December and got an annual breast check and tumor marker blood tests from my medical oncologist, Lorraine Dougherty, MD,” says Neff, 72, of Lansdale.

But when she felt something under her left arm last October, she didn’t wait until her scheduled mammogram to figure it out. “I went right to my cancer team at Grand View Health,” she says.

That quick thinking led to multiple tests. A mammogram and ultrasound detected a mass, and a core needle biopsy confirmed it was cancer. It was a recurrence of the same breast cancer she had 16 years earlier. “My radiation oncologist, Martin Hightower, MD, told me in 2003 that it was a very slow-growing, non-aggressive form of cancer, so the fact that I was cancer-free for 16 years was a great thing.”

Neff, a retired North Penn School District special education teacher, assumed she’d go back to see Dr. Gary Finkelstein, who had performed her lumpectomy in 2003. Then she learned he had retired, and was offered an appointment with Monique Gary, DO, breast surgeon with Grand View Surgical Associates. Neff and Dr. Gary hit it off immediately. “She said to me, ‘I have half of Dr. Finkelstein’s name, so if I’m half as good as he was, you’ll be happy,” Neff says.

“I ask a million questions, and Dr. Gary was patient. She brought up my studies on the screen, explained everything to me and always asked if I had any other questions.”

Dr. Gary set Neff’s surgery for December 10, 2019. Two weeks prior, Neff underwent a procedure to receive a SAVI SCOUT® device. It’s the size of a seed and it helps doctors locate a tumor during a lumpectomy with ultrasound guidance. “Sixteen years ago, I needed a guidewire before surgery, and that added to the time I was in the hospital,” Neff says. “Having the SAVI SCOUT was much easier.”

Neff’s surgery went well. She returned home at 4 p.m. the following day. Two weeks later, when she felt some discomfort under her left arm, she called Dr. Gary, who arranged to see her in the office 30 minutes later. “I learned that my pain was common. It happens when your nerves settle down following surgery,” she says. “She put my mind at ease.”

Recently, Neff completed three weeks of radiation treatment from Dr. Hightower. “That’s down from five weeks in 2004, another improvement!” she says.

After her radiation treatments ended, Neff spent time fishing and kayaking with her husband, Dave, in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Now, she’s looking forward to spending more time with her husband and their son, Brendan, this summer. “I’m fortunate to have Grand View Health to care for me and my family,” she says.

Learn more about cancer care at Grand View Health.