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It’s More than Just Radiation & Medication

 by Ruth Ward

Sharon Breitinger’s breast cancer journey began on October 10, 2017, the day of diagnosis. Sharon describes her initial reaction as one of shock, fear and the feeling that this cannot be real. She states, “First thing we did was call my awesome mom, because not only did we need her support but she had breast cancer over 25 years ago and is a very healthy Breast Cancer Survivor”. Her husband, Pete, is a physician’s assistant and he reached out to his vast medical network and quickly identified the best team of providers for her specific diagnosis. Dr. Sarantos, Dr. Dickerson and Dr. Hayes. “That is how my family and I aligned with North Florida Radiation Oncology (NFRO) and Florida Cancer Specialists (FCS) at The Cancer Center of North Florida Regional Medical Center,” Sharon reports.

Dr. Cherylle Hayes, Medical Director at NFRO recalls, “When I first met Sharon in October, 2017, I knew she had a long road ahead.” Sharon’s care was determined by a multidisciplinary cancer treatment team and included surgery and chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. Dr. Hayes knew she would not see Sharon back in her office until surgery and chemotherapy were completed. However, she was pleasantly surprised to see her just a few weeks after her initial visit. “I saw her sitting in the front row of the first local Lyrics for Life concert hosted by our celebrity band, Sister Hazel, benefitting cancer patients. Here she is I thought, “a patient herself sitting in the audience. What a trooper!” I left that evening thinking about her, her family, what her day must be like and what her needs would be on a routine basis. How does someone get through treatment and maintain quality of life, daily activities, work life, and family life? At North Florida Radiation Oncology patients are thought of as “visiting family” and they become a part of the team with physicians, staff and other providers.

This patient centered team approach begins at diagnosis. Guidance by our nurse navigator offers patients’ help in managing their diagnosis of breast cancer. Susie Ulloa, RN, OCN, ONN-CG navigates each breast pa-
tient through the maze of tests, appointments and treatment. From the beginning each patient is made aware of the availability of treatment and current clinical trials with our partners, Florida Cancer Specialist (FCS) of Gainesville. In addition to our FCS Partners we have partnered with the Sunshine Integrative Health program, founded by Joseph “JJ” Williams A.P., D.O.M. Williams is on a mission to help reduce the symptomatology and side effects of Cancer Treatment thus improving the overall patient experience and daily quality of life. One aspect Williams focuses on is nutrition. Often patients are confused by misleading information surrounding multiple herbs, vitamins and other supplements. Dr. Hayes, strongly believes this is an area of growing concern stating, “Because social media has become such a huge part of our daily lives a lot of misinformation is available to patients regarding supplements.” One supplement, in fact, changed the bleeding times of a cancer patient affecting their surgical outcome. Another herbal supplement, Marijuana, which has been used in herbal remedies for centuries, is currently being studied (especially its different compounds including, but not limited to, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, THC and Cannabidiol, CBD). The effects are based on various compounds in marijuana having different actions in the human body. Many have utilized over the counter products without third party studies validating its use for specific diseases or side effects with cancer treatments. This is an area where seeking proper advice and education is warranted.

Mrs. Breitinger knows all too well how important it is to seek a multidisciplinary approach to patient care. She states “I found support at The Cancer Center and met Earth Angels there.” The knowledge and compassion from physicians, PAs, nurses and the smiles and recognition of the receptionists, friendly and supportive medical assistants, and radiation therapists is not easy to put into words. That and the vigilant and caring infusion nurses along with Susie Ulloa, the navigator, provided comfort. Sharon also found help through The Cancer Center’s holistic team with acupuncture, massage, yoga and support groups. Acupuncture and massage in Cancer Care has been studied for years with more and more data and research confirming the benefits related to the side effects of treatment. Common side effects that acupuncture has shown to benefit include anxiety, fatigue, hot flashes, insomnia, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, joint pain, peripheral neuropathy, headaches, chronic and postsurgical pain. In addition, research has shown oncology massage also helps reduce common side effects such as pain, anxiety, nausea, fatigue, scar reduction and depression. JJ Williams is on a mission to reduce symptomatology at the Cancer Center with his integrative approach to patients receiving cancer treatment.

The most recent addition to The Cancer Center’s holistic options is yoga. Erin Jaszczak, a certified yoga instructor, offers breathing exercises and guided meditations that may increase strength, help detox the body, support lymph drainage and reduce stress and anxiety. Erin has been teaching for a year and a half and has earned several certifications including a specialty in Lymphatic Yoga. The class taught at The Cancer Center is an all-levels Hatha yoga that is suitable for patients in treatment as well as those in recovery and adjusting to their new normal. Modifications are made to allow the practice to meet the patient where they are on their healing journey.

Sharon found yoga and the integrative approach helpful through her own journey, stating one of the most unexpected part of her treatment was the integrative approach. “Each specialist seemed to be in tune with the others and each modality complemented each other.” Although Sharon has completed chemo and radiation treatments she says “I still have follow up visits but hope to continue with acupuncture, massage, yoga and the support group for the foreseeable future.” Sharon’s words of wisdom to those dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis “after the shock and fear, things WILL get better. Also you take time to grieve but then get to work focusing on getting well and staying positive as you push through your new journey. There will be speed bumps. A positive and open mind will improve healing.”

For Dr. Hayes and Mrs. Breitinger the journey came full circle. The second Lyrics for Life concert on September 14, 2018 at Sante Fe Performing Arts Center was meet with greater fanfare and the joy of two lives working toward similar goals. “Ahhh, we meet again,” both Dr. Hayes and Mrs. Breitinger ponder.