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May 28, 2010 > Journey to Recovery

Journey to Recovery

A local breast cancer patient relates her experiences in her fight against breast cancer

The story of Cheryl Haynes' diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer is a journey from fear and anxiety to comfort and hope. Along the way, the 42-year-old home care nurse from Pleasanton encountered many caring people who reached out and supported her when she needed it most.

Cheryl's odyssey began in the fall of 2007 when she discovered a lump in her breast. After a visit to her gynecologist, the situation didn't seem serious. Her mammogram showed nothing alarming, and a surgeon she visited developed a brief care plan for her but didn't seem concerned enough to discuss treatment options or answer detailed questions.

But to Cheryl, something was not right. She continued to do her own research and talked to friends who had been through breast cancer treatment. Several people recommended she see William Dugoni M.D., a general surgeon in Fremont who is also medical director of the Washington Women's Center at Washington Hospital.

That December, Cheryl spent the holidays with her husband and two sons, trying not to think too much about what might lie ahead. When she and her husband met with Dr. Dugoni, they reviewed the details of her condition and discussed treatment options. Further diagnostic tests had confirmed the lump was cancerous and should be removed.

Next, Cheryl had to meet with each member of the physician team that would be managing her care, including an oncologist, radiation oncologist and plastic surgeon. But, the idea of having to coordinate all the appointments was more than she could handle. Once more, Dr. Dugoni's staff came to the rescue, as the doctor's office manager made the calls to schedule all the necessary medical visits.

"I came in feeling so overwhelmed and left feeling loved and supported," remembers Cheryl. "And, each meeting I had after that was just as positive. It was clear that the priority for everyone was to do what would be in the best interests of my good health."

Cheryl met with Fremont oncologist Vandana Sharma M.D., plastic surgeon Prasad Kilaru M.D., and radiation oncologist Ranu Grewal-Bahl M.D. Each showed a wonderful combination of expertise and compassion, listening to her and answering every question.

Her case was also reviewed by the Tumor Board at Washington Hospital, where experts from various disciplines contributed to developing the best possible plan of care.

That January, Cheryl had surgery at Washington Hospital, staying in the hospital overnight. She spent a month recovering and then began four cycles of chemotherapy followed by six weeks of daily radiation therapy at the Washington Radiation Oncology Center.

During chemotherapy, her hair fell out, and Cheryl bought a wig at Bras for Body and Soul, a shop located across the street from Washington Hospital (inside Washington West) that offers specialty products for women dealing with cancer and other related issues.

Cheryl's grueling treatment schedule was even more challenging because she went to work after each radiation therapy appointment. By the last week of therapy, she was exhausted.

"That week, the radiation therapy nurse noticed I wasn't myself," she relates. "She and the doctor took extra time to talk with me and, somehow, they pulled me through the last few days of treatment. Even the other patients at the Center were so upbeat and supportive. It really was amazing."

It is so important for caregivers to stay positive because their attitude has such a profound effect on their patient's outlook, Cheryl recommends.

Now, two years after her battle with cancer, Cheryl feels and looks great. According to her doctors, her prognosis is excellent. Looking back on the experience, she thinks she was pretty lucky.

"I never really felt that bad," she comments.

One of the keys to success, Cheryl believes, was that during her treatment she got plenty of sleep, ate well, went to extra lengths to make herself look good, and always tried to have an upbeat attitude.

"What sticks out in my mind is the team approach of the doctors and other caregivers, the way they communicated with each other and the time they took with me," concludes Cheryl. "I was treated as an individual and not just a number going through a system."

"I also tried to take good care of myself, and I think that helped too."

Comprehensive Breast Cancer Treatment

The Breast Health Program at the Washington Women's Center offers seamless access to hospital-based services and a team approach to patient-centered care. For a complete list of services offered at the Washington Women's Center, visit or call (510) 608-1356 for more information.

For more information about the Washington Radiation Oncology Center, visit or call (510) 796-7212.

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