Dr. Michael Rosenberg speaks with passion about what can be done to turn breast cancer patients into breast cancer survivors. Even with amazing diagnostic tests, less invasive treatment, and advances in breast reconstruction, it is women themselves who are the initial weapons against the cancer that strikes their gender most often, he says.
“There’s so much more we can do today than ever before if we make the diagnosis early,” says the plastic surgeon and breast reconstruction specialist, a recent addition to the medical staff at St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital in Orange County.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a fitting time for Rosenberg to make his pitch that women not ignore the odds linked to this disease, odds he is all too familiar with: His mother, aunt, and sister are breast cancer survivors.
According to the American Cancer Society, 192,370 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, nearly 14,000 of them from New York State. In the seven-county Hudson Valley region, there are an average of 1,667 cases diagnosed annually.
Thankfully, early diagnosis rates are increasing, which could be due in part to education, cancer experts say. Nearly 65 percent of New York cases are now discovered in the early stages, the cancer society reports. And the five-year survival rate for Stage 1 breast cancer is close to 100 percent, according to the Mayo Clinic.
But fear, Rosenberg says, still prevents some women from having mammograms and breast exams by a doctor, or from seeking treatment if they find an abnormality. “That’s really a tragedy,” he adds.
Rosenberg stresses that while treatment of the disease is obviously the most important aspect, he wants women to know that advances in plastic surgery can address some of the other concerns they may have. Combining surgeries and doing reconstruction at the time of breast removal streamlines recovery, a key in restoring well-being, especially if further treatment is required.
The most recent advances come from using allograft, a substitute dermis (inner layer of skin) harvested from donors. Allograft enhances the shape of the breast, making reconstruction quicker and easier with a better implant result. Rosenberg says another option is the TRAM flap procedure, which uses tissue and muscle from the lower abdominal wall to rebuild the breast. This also results in a tightening of the lower abdomen, or a “tummy tuck.”
Emmy Josephs of Hopewell Junction is a cancer survivor whose story inspires others. A routine mammogram revealed her cancer 12 years ago, and she had a mastectomy. The next part of her story is what trips people up: She elected to have a prophylactic, or preventative, mastectomy on the other side. “I am not my breasts, and I want to live,” she says simply. She had the second breast removed, plus reconstruction surgery at the same time, and was back at work as a massage therapist less than four weeks later.
Josephs, who has raised thousands of dollars for the regional Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation, was this year’s honoree for the group’s 5K fund-raising walk. Miles of Hope helps breast cancer patients with support services, like paying bills and getting transportation to medical appointments.
Events and groups that increase awareness can make a difference between a women seeking treatment or not, Rosenberg says. “There’s so much help. Women needn’t be afraid,” he says. “They should seek out care and take ownership of their own health.”
The Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation raises $200,000 per year to provide gap care services to breast cancer patients and their families in the Hudson Valley. “Breast cancer is a very personal thing for just about everybody,” says Executive Director Pari Forood. “Everybody knows somebody affected by this disease.”
After an application is vetted, funds are appropriated to help with expenses not covered by insurance, such as household and utility bills, transportation to medical appointments, and back-to-school supplies.
The foundation’s annual fund-raisers are a 5K walk in the fall, a spring brunch, basketball and soccer events, and a family fun run. The group helps women in Columbia, Dutchess, Putnam, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Ulster, and Greene counties.
For more information, call 845-264-2005 or visit www.milesofhopebcf.org.