Taking Charge of Breast Cancer

Martha Strayer with her doctor and nurseOctober 5, 2017– “I was just floored,” says Martha Strayer of Brunswick, Ga., when she learned the tumor found during her routine mammogram in September 2015 was cancer. “I never felt anything. I didn’t know it was there until it showed up as a spot on the mammogram.”

The news was delivered by Vincent K. Arlauskas, M.D., general surgeon with Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Glynn General & Vascular Surgery, less than a month after her brother died from small cell lung cancer. “I was in such shock and so grateful to Laura Wiggins, the breast cancer nurse in Dr. Arlauskas’ office, for being there.”

Once she moved beyond her initial shock, Strayer’s clinical instincts kicked in. Having worked as a registered nurse for 41 years at the Health System’s Brunswick Campus, and having already survived uterine cancer, she knew who, what and where her next steps would be.

Where to have treatment would be right here in Brunswick at the Health System’s Cancer Care Center. “I certainly would not have gone anywhere else,” says Strayer. “I was not interested in going out of town. I wanted to be home with people I knew. It means a lot to have friends and neighbors taking care of you.”

What to have done was a decision between a lumpectomy, or given this was her second primary cancer site, a bilateral mastectomy. She chose a bilateral mastectomy, explaining, “My sister-in-law had breast cancer and kept having lumpectomies. I didn’t want to keep going back, I just wanted it done.” Dr. Arlauskas agreed and 45 minutes later she met with Steven Barr, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon with Renue Plastic Surgery. The physicians would do the breast removal and reconstruction surgery at the same time.

Who would provide treatment was her next decision. She selected Duane Moores, M.D., Ph.D., board-certified medical oncologist with Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Hematology & Oncology, a strategic affiliate of the Health System. When Dr. Moores offered to help her get a second opinion, Strayer says, “I told him no. He was recommended by one of my coworkers and I was confident he and the Cancer Care Center would take good care of me.”

Strayer was prescribed four chemotherapy treatments, each 21 days a part . She had her first treatment in November and planned the rest around Thanksgiving and Christmas, noting, “As time goes on, chemo sucks your energy. Add to that the bone and muscle pain from the Neulasta shots to help prevent infection.” She was expecting the worst, but says attitude has a lot to do with how you cope. Strayer also says she was blessed with support from very good friends and family to help her through. Her final chemotherapy treatment was administered on January 21, 2016.

Reflecting on her experience, Strayer says it very much matched her expectations from being a part of the Health System’s care team for 41 years. “It was absolutely a team approach,” she says. “Everybody worked together from Dr. Arlauskas, Dr. Barr, Dr. Moores to the entire Cancer Care Center team. I was very comfortable and confident with everyone. Now, not only can I share the care experience here in Brunswick as a nurse, but also as a patient.”