Doctor, nurse who both survived breast cancer share advice – Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

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Doctor, nurse who both survived breast cancer share advice – Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

CEDAR FALLS — Breast cancer can happen to anyone — even someone who had no risk for the disease, like Dr. Suzy Lipinski.

The physician at Partners in OBGYN, part of Covenant Medical Center, didn’t have any family history of breast cancer and was 39 and healthy.

When her chest ached after doing pushups in December 2011, she rubbed her sore muscles out and felt a solid lump.

“So I called the Breast Center, but really wasn’t particularly worried,” Lipinski said.

It was a good thing she got screened: An ultrasound revealed “funny features” on the offending lump, and a biopsy showed it was, indeed, cancerous.

Lipinski had surgery over the Christmas holiday to remove the lump, and worked a reduced schedule so that she could undergo radiation. Because it was caught early, chemotherapy was not needed for her particular cancer.

Trusting her instincts to get checked out paid off — and she said other women should trust theirs.

“Mine caught at Stage 1 made a very minimal impact on my life,” she said.

Not everyone is so lucky. Lipinski’s coworker, Jacque Bakker, a registered nurse at Partners in OBGYN, was diagnosed with breast cancer on Nov. 25, 2009, and underwent chemotherapy from January to June 2010. She had radiation treatments until March 2011.

Bakker began going to a quarterly support group through the Beyond Pink TEAM called Young Survivors at the beginning of her chemotherapy treatments. It proved to be an emotional godsend right when she needed it.

“The first person I saw when I walked in there identified herself as a five-year survivor, and she had the same kind of breast cancer I had,” Bakker said. “It made me feel so much better. I thought, ‘You know what? If I keep surviving this, I’m gonna keep coming here,’ because I appreciate all these people who were years out and kept supporting.”

Bakker’s done just that, but gone even further: She’s supported the Beyond Pink TEAM as a donor and advocate, lobbying legislators and attending national summits to learn more and spread awareness about the need for research funding for breast cancer.

“I knew then that there were types of breast cancer that did not have good treatments,” Bakker said. “I gotta help push for good treatments for all breast cancers … because far too many people are still dying.”

Both Bakker and Lipinski say there are things they wish they would have known before being diagnosed.

Bakker said, once someone is diagnosed, they should not be afraid to ask their doctor all of their questions. And, if they want to try, they should ask if there are any clinical trials they can participate in.

“I, myself, asked about a clinical trial,” Bakker said. “I think that was a helpful thing for me. I think they should always ask, ‘What are my treatment options now?’ — and once they’re done with chemotherapy.”

Bakker said it was also important to “know their breasts well,” and if something has changed, report it to their doctor right away.

Lipinski said she wasn’t aware of the different aspects of treating breast cancer — like needing special bras or compression sleeves, or what to do if lymph nodes don’t drain properly.

“Some of those unique aspects — what happens to your skin, not being able to wear underwire bras — things I wouldn’t have known to tell my patients about,” she said. “Because I went through it myself, it taught me.”

And though certain people will have a genetically higher risk of having breast cancer through no fault of their own, there are still ways to lower it, said Lipinski.

“Those that are at high risk can reduce their risk by doing things like maintaining a healthy weight, reducing their alcohol use, reducing tobacco use, exercising regularly,” she said. “Having healthy habits going into it is going to reduce your risk, even if you’re high risk.”

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