Two Cancers: Two Victories Praises Danbury Resident and Former Commodities Trader
"I knew from the start I was going to beat this."
Judging from Judith Peterson's cheery disposition, it's hard to tell she is currently undergoing chemotherapy for both breast and liver cancers, diagnosed concurrently and removed in separate operations at Danbury Hospital in December 2013.
The Danbury resident, a former commodities trader, had been in relatively good health until the cancer, which, ironically, was discovered during Breast Cancer Awareness month in October.
"I had gone to see my primary care physician for a routine physical" recalls Judy. "He said, 'It's time for your yearly (OB/GYN) exam and mammogram. I hadn't thought anything of it but I had a lump underneath my right arm which I thought was a boil."
After her mammogram, Judy was sent for a sonogram. A lump was discovered in her right breast with two smaller satellite lumps on either side, in addition to the lump under the arm. Less than a week after the mammogram, Judy met with Dr. Valerie Staradub, fellowship-trained breast surgeon and Director of the Breast Care Program at Western Connecticut Health Network, who examined the lumps and set up a biopsy for them. A diagnosis of mid-stage breast cancer came in a couple of days.
Judy's next step was to meet with medical oncologist Dr. Jennifer Zikria, was concerned about her weight loss and felt something on Judy's abdomen during her standard examination. Suspecting the breast cancer might have metastasized, Dr. Zikria ordered a PET scan, which showed a lesion on Judy's liver. A subsequent MRI and biopsy revealed liver cancer - completely unrelated to her breast cancer. "It was a totally different cancer, not from the breast," Dr. Zikria said, admitting she was surprised to learn of a second curable cancer at the time of diagnosis - quite an unusual scenario. Judy had no pain or suspicions of a liver problem.
Incredulously, first breast cancer, then liver.
New Surgical Specialist Completes the Patient's Team
Dr. Zikria referred Judy to Dr. Daniel Kleiner, a specialist in Hepatic-Pancreatic and Biliary (HPB) Surgery who joined the Western Connecticut Medical Group in late 2013. Dr. Kleiner was prepared, and willing, to take an aggressive approach to Judy's cancer. For Judy, Dr. Kleiner's recent addition to the team was absolutely serendipitous.
Dr. Kleiner's rare combination of expertise in minimally invasive surgery and in HPB and Upper GI surgery enables him to offer patients, like Judy, the most complex cancer operations using cutting-edge, minimally invasive techniques.
With Dr. Kleiner on board, Danbury Hospital is now able to handle complex cases like this one - which may be deemed too complicated by other hospitals. "Our team has the broad scope of talent, capability and experience to be aggressive," said Dr. Kleiner.
"The timing and integration of the treatment were what complicated this case," said Dr. Staradub. "The treatment had to be carefully coordinated to achieve a positive experience for the patient."
Judy's cancers were presented to the Danbury Hospital's multi-disciplinary review board, where multiple specialists work together to determine the right course of treatment for each cancer case. The board enables patients like Judy to benefit from the expertise of numerous other specialists beyond their own physicians.
For Judy, the best course was two separate surgeries: first, a lumpectomy to remove three malignant tumors in her right breast and 23 lymph nodes. One week later Judy underwent surgery to remove a large and aggressive cancer from her liver in a five-hour operation. Fortunately, the cancers both had "clean margins" - giving her a good prognosis.
"My doctors said I'm cancer free," said Judy. She praises the coordinated effort of Dr. Jennifer Zikria, Dr. Valerie Staradub and Dr. Daniel Kleiner with successfully treating both cancers. Judy had a relatively short recovery period after her surgeries, and says proudly that she has "healed beautifully. I still look good!"
Dr. Zikria marvels at Judy's "calm, low-key" demeanor and said it helped her endure "two complicated surgeries only a week apart." Dr. Zikria is now overseeing Judy's chemotherapy to address both cancers and her radiation course, which is next. Judy's treatment plan also involves referrals from Breast Care Navigator Joanne Ballerini. "Joanne keeps in touch with me and lets me know of different programs and grants I'm eligible for," said Judy, "Services like rides to treatment and help with transportation costs."
Judy credits her medical team, her deep faith, and the Praxair Cancer Center staff with helping her survive these last several months. "Patients here are treated like family," said Judy, whose own family includes a very supportive son, granddaughter, and tightknit group of close 'family friends.' "They (Praxair staff) treat you like royalty - everyone from the clerical staff, to the doctors and nurses. Everyone's on top of it all, with the scheduling, with the treatment plan. The second time I went in for my appointment with my doctor the receptionist said, 'Hi Judy.' The simple things like that make all the difference in the world."
About The Praxair Cancer Center at Danbury Hospital
The Praxair Cancer Center at Danbury Hospital is the region's leading provider of cancer care services and is nationally accredited as an Academic Comprehensive Care Program by the American College of Surgeons (ACS). The Center, staffed by physicians from the Western Connecticut Medical Group, is the recipient of the "Accreditation with Commendation" from the Commission on Cancer which recognizes cancer programs that strive for excellence in providing comprehensive, multidisciplinary quality care to cancer patients.
At The Praxair Cancer Center, our patients and their families receive an exceptional level of care and support in a compassionate environment, close to home, by our multidisciplinary care team of experienced medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, oncology nurses along with our oncology nurse navigators and other specialists with advanced training.
About the "New" Western Connecticut Health Network
Western Connecticut Health Network is the region's premier, patient-centered health care organization serving residents of Western Connecticut and adjacent New York. With this recent affiliation, the organization is now anchored by three nationally recognized hospitals, Danbury Hospital, New Milford Hospital and Norwalk Hospital, as well as their affiliated organizations. In addition to the three hospitals, the continuum of care offered includes numerous medical practices and sub-specialties across the region, home health care services, a nationally renowned biomedical research institute, the Western Connecticut Health Network Foundation, the Norwalk Hospital Foundation and other affiliates. For more information, visit TheNewWCHN.org. Share your comments with us at Facebook.com/DanburyHospital; Facebook.com/NewMilfordHospital and/or Facebook.com/NorwalkHospital.