Knowing breast cancer from both sides
Kathryn Razinha knows breast cancer, both as a caregiver and a patient. For the past 10 years she has worked at the Cuda Women's Health Center in Hyannis, seven years in medical records, and she also works with peer patients in the Breast Cancer Support Group there. And, for the past four years, she has been treated for her own case of the disease.
At her annual mammogram appointment at Cuda in October of 2016, an area in her left breast was identified for biopsy. After the biopsy, she was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma and in situ cancer. Further, the cancer was identified as HER2 positive, which meant that her hormones encouraged the growth of the cancer cells. "In a good way that meant the cells would also be responsive to treatment," she said.
Razinha received the news from Cuda nurse practitioner Katy McElroy, NP, who happens to be a good friend.
"I could see the tears welling in her eyes," Razinha said. "But I'm a very faith-based person and it felt like somebody was there with me (letting her know everything would work out well)."
Razinha, who has three grown children and three "beautiful" granddaughters, faced a course of chemotherapy and then radiation treatment, and she did not hesitate about where her treatment would take place.
"We have state-of-the-art equipment and I found that being able to stay local, was most conducive to being able to continue to work through treatment. Being clinically trained and knowing that I did my research, was very helpful," she said. "I felt comfortable that because of our association with Dana Farber Cancer Institute, that the tumor board would review my case, making the best recommendations for the type of cancer, and I could make informed decisions towards my care."
In 2019, Cape Cod Hospital became a member of the Dana-Farber Cancer Care Collaborative. The collaborative helps disseminate the latest evidence-based best practices and standards to member hospitals and physician practices. Member hospitals also have access to consultations and support services, including on-site specialty second opinion clinics, tumor board conferences and physician lectures.
Razinha, who is a registered nurse and clinically educated, worked together with surgeon Kathryn Dalton, MD, FACS, FACOS, medical oncologist Jennifer Crook, MD and radiation oncologist Molly Sullivan, MD on her treatment plan.
She began her journey with a breast-conserving, hidden scar lumpectomy, performed by surgeon Dr. Dalton.
Along with chemotherapy, which meant a weekly infusion at Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center at Cape Cod Hospital for four months. Radiation for five weeks, then her Herceptin infusion was continued once every three weeks for the rest of that year. She was placed on the drug Letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor that combats cancer cells, and will be on the drug for another 2 years.
Being a partner in her treatment plan was a great comfort, Razinha said.
"It gave me a feeling that saving my life, preserving my life, was partly my decision and choice," she said, her voice breaking slightly. "It is very empowering to be able to have that choice."
That feeling is shared by many women who come to Cuda, said Anne Morris, MD, a radiologist with Cape Cod Healthcare.
"The Cuda center delivers warm, compassionate care to the women of our community, and we pride ourselves on being a Center of Excellence with the latest technology for breast imaging right here on Cape Cod," she said.
The chemo treatments were "as pleasant as they could be," due to a "super" nursing staff, Razinha said. She is equally effusive about the staff in the radiation oncology area of Davenport-Mugar.
She now sees one of her caregivers – either the surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, or her primary care physician, on an alternating basis - about every three months. "It's a comfort to know there's somebody there to follow up. If I do have a question, I have people to ask," she said.
Unfortunately, cancer was not new to Razinha when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was successfully treated for a sarcoma while in her 20s, as well as endometrial cancer in her 40s. She has several risk factors, including the fact that her mother had ovarian cancer, and had been given the drug DES, which was given to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage from the 1940s through the 1960s, and was later found to put the daughters of those women at greater risk for certain cancers. She also had taken the generic version of the acid reflux drug Zantac, which has been linked to breast cancer. In addition, there is a history of multiple cancers on both sides of her family tree.
The good news was that testing done for the genes that cause reproductive cancers, BRCA 1 and 2 came back negative, which Razinha said relieved her daughter and her son who is the father of Kathy's three granddaughters.
These days, Razinha is focused on her family and on the patients she meets at Cuda. While she suffers from a few side effects of the treatments, like problems with hand mobility and her eyes, they don't prevent her from working and doing most things she enjoys.
"It has been very joyful for me to be able to be present with patients, especially when somebody is first diagnosed," she said. "They're scared; we all are. I have no problem giving them my phone number, my home email, and having a little more personal connection with them."
"We're always looking to make this a less stressful process," Razinha continued. "We want to make sure they not only feel comfortable but have assurance that it's a safe environment, especially during the pandemic."
We invite you to review our new Women’s Health website, a go-to resource intended to help patients and providers navigate these specialized services for women of all ages, in all stages of their healthcare journey. For women on Cape Cod and beyond, our team is truly providing comprehensive care, close to home.