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You are not alone: Irma Roma and Susan Basmajian

Irma's Story

 

I was diagnosed with breast cancer when it was almost time for me to graduate from Monterey Peninsula College with my associate of arts degree in child development. I was a student, a preschool teacher, a mother. I was thinking about all I had to do. I graduated June 2 and went into surgery on June 26.

When I learned I had cancer, I took a proactive approach. I asked the doctor, "How are you going to help me? What are the steps I need to follow to get through this?" I never asked "Why me?" I asked my doctors to give me information to help me make the decision that was right for me.

After much thought, I decided to have a bilateral mastectomy — both breasts removed. I didn’t have cancer in both, but I knew it could happen and I did not want it to. I am a single mother with a 7-year-old son. I couldn’t afford to give in to this disease.

I am thankful for the support I received from the Breast Care Center, my doctors, my family, the Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Breast Cancer Assistance Group of the Monterey Peninsula, and Community Hospital’s Patient Navigator program.

Susan Basmajian, my patient navigator, is like my counselor. It helps a lot when you have someone in your life who has been through the same thing and understands what you’re feeling.

This journey is not easy, but having good support, good medical care, and a positive attitude helps a lot. You must find something you want to live for, and then you will be successful. My little boy is my inspiration.

- Irma Roma

Susan’s story

I met Irma in my role as a patient navigator at Community Hospital. She recently had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. Like Irma, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. I had a lumpectomy, followed by radiation and hormone therapy. After seeking a second opinion at Community Hospital, I met with a new team of doctors who presented me with additional treatment options.

The new doctors felt that, at the very least, I needed another excision to widen the margin around the tumor. They spent a great deal of time with me, explaining my disease and discussing my risk of recurrence. Like Irma, I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy and immediate reconstruction.

Arriving at this decision wasn’t easy. I was fortunate to meet another breast-cancer patient who shared her similar experience with me. We both understood that surgery had its risks but provided me the ultimate protection from recurrence. The surgery was a success and the right decision for me: It turned out I had cancer in the "healthy" breast. Two mammograms and two ultrasounds had not detected the lesion.

This experience taught me so much about the decision-making process surrounding a breast-cancer diagnosis. My final decision was based on discussions with physicians and friends, as well as self-knowledge and a bit of intuition. It is meaningful to connect with women like Irma. I’ve navigated nine women so far. Everybody’s case is so different, but it’s always scary. Yet, with this navigation program and modern medicine, it’s doable. I arm the women with information and make it easy for them to understand. This empowers them to make the best decisions for themselves.

-Susan Basmajian