Ann's Story

Ann BittnerThriving After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

By profession and by nature, I'm a planner. I tend to schedule things very carefully. But of course, cancer isn't part of anyone's plans. It's one of those situations in life that really do require you to take things one day at a time. And that's what we did.

My Diagnosis:
"I can't exactly say that I was shocked."

I don't know if you can say that breast cancer or other types of cancer run in my family, but they have made an appearance from time to time. My mother had cancer and her grandmother had it. So when I was diagnosed I can't exactly say that I was shocked. But I was surprised, and what was equally surprising was how it happened.

After our cat died I wasn't quite ready to get another one, but I missed being around animals. I applied to volunteer at the SPCA shelter in order to help out with the homeless cats, but was told that I would need a tetanus shot before I could start. Well, my primary care doctor said that since I hadn't been in the office lately I should have a physical and a mammogram, too, which I got at the Riverside Diagnostic Center. Something on the mammogram looked a little suspicious so I had a follow up ultrasound and then a biopsy. Somehow I sensed the results even before they told me.

First Steps on the Journey:
"She went above and beyond my expectations."

I met Yvonne Pike when I had the biopsy. She's the Breast Cancer Patient Navigator for Riverside Cancer Care. You would expect someone in that role, someone whose job it is to help guide you through the experience, to be caring and knowledgeable. But Yvonne went above and beyond my expectations. She was very compassionate, but she also helped me understand that there was a lot to do and a lot to think about and she really helped me focus my attention on all the details, medical and otherwise. And just as she originally told me, she was there every step of the way.

Dr. Michael PeyserBased on my discussions with Yvonne and the recommendation of a family member, I requested that Dr. Michael Peyser, a Riverside oncology surgeon, do the procedure. When I met with him he took a lot of time to clearly explain the surgery I'd be having. And he listened carefully and was very patiently since I had done a lot of research on my own and came in with quite a few questions. He said that because of the nature of the tumor he'd be able to perform a lumpectomy, which was good news. After we discussed everything Dr. Peyser told me that the best way to prepare myself was just to relax. Since there really wasn't anything else I could do at that point I did my best to follow that advice.

A Very Personal Response to Cancer:
"I didn't want to hear anyone else's stories."

Ann BittnerI'm a retired teacher. I taught English and Spanish for over thirty years, in both middle school and high school. By profession and by nature, I'm a planner. I tend to schedule things very carefully. But of course, cancer isn't part of anyone's plans. It's one of those situations in life that really do require you to take things one day at a time. And that's what we did.

I made the decision right away not to let people know about my breast cancer until after the surgery. It's not that I wouldn't normally communicate with good friends and family, but in this case, I didn't want to hear anyone else's stories and outcomes. At least not yet. I wanted to start with a completely clean slate. Anyone who's diagnosed with cancer gets to make his or her own choices regarding when and how they'll share information, but for me, that was the best approach for entering treatment with a positive attitude.

My Experience with Riverside:
"They put a lot of effort into making me feel comfortable."

I had the lumpectomy as an outpatient and really didn't have much pain or even discomfort following the surgery. At that point, Dr. Peyser determined that I would need radiation, but not chemotherapy, so after a short time I began receiving radiation treatments under the direction of Dr. Wassum, a Riverside radiation oncologist. He and the rest of the staff were very skilled and they also put a lot of effort into making me feel comfortable.

They were especially good about working my radiation treatments around the rest of my life. I was taking a pottery class at the Peninsula Fine Arts and I didn't have to miss any of the sessions. I was so appreciate of that kind of flexibility and their kindness in general that I made them all clay bowls. I still stop by with chocolate from time to time. Throughout the treatments I was fortunate that the radiation, like the surgery, didn't cause me any serious problems.

What the teacher learned:
"This is why I'm telling my story."

The thing about cancer is that it's not very conducive to business as usual. You have a set of problems come into your life and they don't go away by themselves. You have to face them and you have to take action. Like I told some people, you might have days when you want to tear your hair out, but that just leaves you bald! What truly helps is to feel good about the care you're getting. It makes a huge difference in your confidence.

I can't say enough about the medical treatment – and the human treatment – I got from Riverside. I want to give something back and that's why I'm telling my story. I want to do whatever I can to help somebody get through the experience.


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