Breast Health Team Guides Montcalm Woman through Cancer and Pandemic
Jackie Kemler was diligent about getting regular mammograms. A couple of times, she was asked back for additional testing due to dense breast tissue but received the all-clear message after those subsequent visits. When she got a call from her nurse practitioner on her cell phone during a quilting group gathering, she didn’t think much of it. But this time, the test revealed something that needed attention.
In February, Kemler had opted for a mammogram using the newly available 3D mammography equipment at MidMichigan Medical Center - Gratiot. “I live about 30 minutes from Gratiot,” Kemler said. “Even though there is a small fee associated with testing using this technology, I thought that if it kept me from making an additional trip for a call back, it would be worth it. As things turned out, I am so glad I did.”
The 3D mammography, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis, allows radiologists to “see” more closely through the breast tissue, layer by layer, by minimizing overlapping breast tissue. During a 3D mammogram, multiple low dose images are acquired at different angles. This provides multiple slices through breast tissue for the radiologists to view, similar to flipping through pages of a book.
Kemler worked closely with Melissa Hoag, R.N., O.C.N., C.N.-B.N., breast nurse navigator at MidMichigan Medical Center – Gratiot. She was told she would need a lumpectomy and a sentinel lymph node biopsy.
“I assumed I would be going to a larger city for this kind of work,” said Kemler. She researched doctors online, paying attention to the number of COVID-19 cases reported at larger institutions. After a follow up conversation with Hoag, including a discussion of previous procedures she’d had with local surgeon Jeffrey Smith, M.D., Kemler shifted gears.
“Melissa knew I had a good rapport with Dr. Smith, but I didn’t realize he handled cancer cases. After considering his experience in this area, I was happy to have the option of staying closer to home,” she said.
Kemler also talked about receiving care during a pandemic. “Obviously, when dealing with cancer, you want to act quickly,” she said. “I knew that all the necessary precautions were being taken at the medical center to minimize risk of getting the virus. And, being at a hospital with a much lower number of COVID-19 positive patients than at some of the larger hospitals in Michigan was a blessing.”
In a matter of days, Kemler’s surgery was on the schedule. “Because of the conversations I had with Melissa and the written information she shared with me, there were no surprises in the procedures. I am grateful for knowing exactly what to expect,” she said.
The lumpectomy revealed stage one cancer in the left breast. Kemler chose to have a mastectomy. Due to visitor restrictions as a result of the pandemic, her husband was not able to be with her, but the nursing team that assisted during her lumpectomy greeted her at the door. Their familiar faces quickly put her at ease.
Kemler expressed how well cared for she felt during both experiences. “Each staff member made me feel safe and made eye contact with me,” she said. “They were compassionate and took time with me. The kindness I received from all parties – Melissa, my doctor, anesthesiologists and the incredible nurses – made this experience as smooth as it could possibly have been, even in the middle of a pandemic.”
Kemler’s prognosis didn’t require further cancer treatment like chemo or radiation therapy. She is recovering well at home reading, quilting and doing some gardening. She said she is happy to have all of her medical information available the MyMidMichigan patient portal so she can accurately report the details of her case to family and friends. She continues to use the comfort pillow given to her by staff at the hospital and revisit the reference book highlighted personally by Hoag. “I know it sounds trite, but the staff have become friends and family,” said Kemler. “I hope I don’t require further care but if I do, I will certainly go back to them.”
To help breast cancer patients navigate through the many choices available and determine which treatment options are right for them, MidMichigan Medical Centers in Alma, Alpena, and Midland offer comprehensive, multidisciplinary Breast Health Programs. These programs are comprised of a team of dedicated physicians, nurses, breast nurse navigators like Hoag and other health professionals dedicated to developing individualized treatment plans and assisting patients through every step of their treatment and recovery process. Those who would like more information about MidMichigan Health’s Breast Programs may visit www.midmichigan.org/breast.
Those interested in more information regarding MidMichigan Health’s patient portal, MyMidMichigan, may visit www.midmichigan.org/mymidmichigan.