In March, as the country began to experience the impacts of COVID-19, 72-year-old Linda Herndon was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was about to start an arduous journey toward recovery.
Herndon lives near Cloudcroft, New Mexico, but receives treatment at Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso’s Breast Care Center (BCC).
“I went for my routine mammogram and they said, ‘we see something,’” Herndon said. “They did a biopsy and found it was cancer. At first you can’t believe it. I’ve had mammograms all my life and they all came out perfectly negative.”
The diagnosis of breast cancer is fraught with fear, anxiety and uncertainty. In these troubling times, any and all humanitarian efforts undertaken are priceless, said Karinn Chambers, M.D., assistant professor in Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Department of Surgery, and medical director of the BCC.
“It’s been a very traumatic journey,” Herndon said. “You hear the diagnosis and think, ‘You must be talking about someone else.’”
Finding support from the Breast Care Center
The BCC provides comprehensive and integrated care for the diagnosis, treatment and education of breast cancer patients and conducts clinical research in the prevention, early detection, and treatment of breast cancer and treatment-related side effects. It’s the first breast center in El Paso to be accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC).
Once the news sunk in, Herndon faced another hurdle: undergoing a double mastectomy during the COVID-19 pandemic without any visitation from her husband due to hospital restrictions. Her treatment also has included seven weeks of radiation.
“The Breast Care Center has been amazing,” Herndon said. “They have amazing people who are always there to help. They’ve just been so kind, considerate and very supportive. It’s been helpful just to get through all this.”
Each year, there are more than 5,000 patient visits to the BCC, of which 1,000 are new patient visits. The center identifies almost 200 new breast cancer cases annually, which is approximately one-third of new cases reported each year in El Paso County. Additionally, one out of 10 new patients at the BCC receives a diagnosis of breast cancer.
The BCC also evaluates and treats a variety of benign breast conditions and identifies patients who are at high risk for breast cancer.
“Should a patient be faced with the diagnosis of breast cancer, many support services are available to them through Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso Breast Care Center and University Medical Center of El Paso,” Dr. Chambers said. “Support groups and survivorship courses are available, and each patient will be provided with an individualized survivorship care plan. Wigs, hats, scarfs and other items are available to those patients undergoing chemotherapy.
“Should these resources not meet the needs of the patient, they can be referred for counseling and other psychological support services,” Dr. Chambers said. “The physicians at the Breast Care Center and UMC work very hard to make sure all the emotional needs of our patients are met. We also work with the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation to supply any additional services necessary.”
A multidisciplinary approach to care
The BCC is part of TTP El Paso’s multidisciplinary approach to treating breast cancer patients, and its team includes breast surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, a nurse practitioner, certified nurses, breast radiologists and pathologists. Patients also have access to the center’s Breast Cancer Survivorship Clinic for help with alleviating the stress that comes with diagnosis.
About two-thirds of the BCC’s patients are uninsured or have very little means. The center accepts donations and seeks grants to provide all necessary aspects of breast cancer care to patients. Its location in the heart of El Paso and on the TTUHSC El Paso campus allows patients to remain in the city for treatment without the stress of traveling to different clinics to seek care.
Dr. Chambers said that very often, the BCC’s patients struggle with transportation, emotional support and office fees associated with their treatment. This doesn’t begin to touch on the overwhelming concerns that arise when it comes to costs of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments they may need. Donations to the BCC help cover those costs for the uninsured or those with little means.
Herndon wrapped up her radiation treatments this month. Fighting breast cancer was made easier because of her ability to stay at a Fisher House free of charge. Sponsored by the Fisher House Foundation, Fisher House comfort homes are built near military institutions where military and veteran families can stay for free while a loved one is in the hospital or receiving treatment.
In addition to the BCC’s staff, Herndon is thankful for her Christian faith and friends who have helped her during this difficult time.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Dr. Chambers reminds women and men to do their breast self-exams and repeat them at the same time every month.
- Skin changes, including dimpling, puckering or bulging.
- Swelling, redness or rash.
- Nipple changes and/or discharge.
- Hard areas that get larger with time.
- Visit the TTP El Paso Breast Care Center’s webpage for more information or to make an appointment.