Because she had early stage disease, her surgeon ordered Oncotype DX.
Some people's greatest fear is flying, but not Gretchen M., a vivacious retired flight attendant who made a career of helping passengers feel at ease while up in the air. But when she faced a breast cancer diagnosis last year, it was Gretchen's turn to experience fear and a loss of control. Gretchen had no family history of breast cancer and had never known anyone else who was diagnosed with the disease.
When she went for her yearly mammogram, a suspicious lesion that neither she nor her doctor could feel was discovered in her right breast. After that, "everything happened at record speed," she says. Gretchen's breast surgeon confirmed the diagnosis of breast cancer with a needle biopsy after further imaging with an ultrasound. Shortly after, she underwent surgical treatment with a right partial mastectomy and sentinel axillary lymph node dissection.
Gretchen's surgery was performed, and her cancer was identified as node-negative. Because she had early stage disease, her surgeon ordered Oncotype DX. Some initial lab results had indicated that she would be a candidate for chemotherapy, but the results from Oncotype DX suggested that Gretchen would not benefit from chemotherapy.
“How many people have endured chemo when they didn't need to?”
Gretchen wasn't sure what to do with these conflicting test results, so she visited a chemotherapy center and talked to patients and nurses about what to expect while having treatment. After that experience, Gretchen wanted to be sure that she was making the best treatment decision for her individual case. "You can't be shy about these things," recalls Gretchen. "You have to be your own policewoman." She then requested additional lab reviews, which returned results that corroborated the Oncotype DX findings. Along with these new results and Gretchen's Recurrence Score of 4, she had everything she needed to make an informed decision in consultation with her oncologist, and they opted to forgo chemotherapy.
Gretchen was ecstatic. "I felt 20 pounds lighter. But it made me wonder, 'How many people have endured chemo when they didn't need to?'" Gretchen returned to her surgeon to thank him. "I told him that he saved my life with the surgery and by thinking of the Oncotype DX test."
Gretchen completed radiation therapy and continues on hormonal treatment with an aromatase-inhibitor. Although she had to appeal to her insurance company to cover the cost of the Oncotype DX test, she says that Exact Sciences' Genomic Access Program supported her by helping to communicate with her insurance company, which ultimately covered the test in full.
Nearly a year after her initial diagnosis, Gretchen continues to do well. She has embraced her passion for interior decorating and will begin taking classes in the fall. "Interior decorating is a God-given talent. Everyone is always asking me to help them fix up their homes, and it is a bright spot to lend a hand at something I enjoy." When she isn't helping out her friends, she enjoys water aerobics and walking her two shih-tzu dogs.
Best of all, Gretchen is no longer fearful. "The cancer scare makes life all the more worth it. But you have to get many opinions and be your own advocate."
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