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One Woman's Journey 

It began with an innocent itch on the right side of her breast, but the scratch revealed a lump big enough to tell her more than she wanted to know. A day later, she visited her gynecologist, who directed her to Community Hospital's Breast Care Center, where tests confirmed that Susan Derr had breast cancer.

And so began her cancer journey, through chemotherapy and surgery, followed by radiation and then continuing chemotherapy. During one of her final radiation treatments, Derr mentioned to her doctor that she felt a persistent aching in her shoulders, a sensation that came in waves, flowed down her arms, and made her want to sit down until it passed and she could return to her work.

Susan DerrBig Sur resident Susan Derr looks forward to time with her
grandson after a year of challenging health issues.

The doctor, radiation oncologist Patrick Feehan, sensed it was a heart problem.

"He told me I should see a cardiologist," says Derr, "and he basically saved my life."

That started Derr on a new journey, this time through many facets of Community Hospital's Tyler Heart Institute and its full continuum of cardiac care.

"I started with Dr. Soteria Karahalios, who gave me a stress test and recommended that I see Dr. Pir Shah for an angiogram," Derr says. "I had blood drawn one day, an angiogram the next, and a day later was told my arteries were blocked 30 percent or more. I needed a quadruple bypass: open-heart surgery."

Dr. Gregory Spowart, a specialist in cardiothoracic surgery who had just joined Tyler Heart Institute, performed the quadruple bypass.

"Everything happened so quickly," says Derr. "You never really think anything's going to happen to you. Suddenly you realize this intense, life-changing thing is taking place."

Following her bypass surgery, Derr was encouraged to participate in Community Hospital's cardiac rehabilitation program, which includes monitored exercise and education following heart surgery, heart attack, or heart procedure.

"I didn't go right away," says Derr, 64. "I was in a lot of pain at the time, and I felt like I needed a certain mindset and energy to go to the Cardiac Wellness gym. But several weeks later, I started going three times a week. And each week I got a little stronger. Exercise is really important after major surgery. I had become a couch potato due to many uncontrollable circumstances, and I knew it was time to get active again.

"In one year, I had had surgery, breast cancer, and heart disease, followed by open-heart surgery. All my warranties ran out at the same time, so I knew I needed to make some lifestyle changes. What's important to me now is to keep on moving and not lose faith. Last year, my grandson was born on Kauai. I have a lot to look forward to."