Today was spent shadowing the Breast Health Navigator, Michelle Wilkes, RN, BSN. She has an office in the general surgery clinic and does a variety of things and works with all breast cancer patients. Michelle does the breast health case management and the promotion/prevention material at the hospital. In October, she does a lot of health promotional type things such as participating and organizing health fairs, creating flyers and banners for awareness and ofcourse coordinating with her stake holders and managing her budget given by the government.
We talked about almost everything today and I am very interested in this field. It’s very rewarding to work with cancer patients and feel that you are providing care and support for them. Michelle has a list of resources along with a Breast Cancer textbook that she gives each of her patients upon arrival. I also learned that there are multiple kinds of breast cancer depending on its location– whether in the fatty tissue, lymph nodes, or ducts. I will be attending a meeting at the American Cancer Society with Michelle on February 5th which she thinks will be beneficial to me. So I am excited about that and feel fortunate to have met her! I learned about a program that the American Cancer Society has called “Road to Recovery” which is for volunteers who help cancer patients by driving them to their chemotherapy appointments. I am very interested in this and want to get more information on participating!
So I also learned all about finding bumps or cysts in the breast and how they do the biopsy and thus remove the abnormal tissue. It is a process, and involves lots of radiology, needles, mammograms, surgery if needed, etc. However, at times a cyst may show up on a mammogram but it can’t be seen or felt in person. To locate and remove this kind of cyst, they do a procedure called a stereotactic biopsy which I found extremely neat and interesting! Basically, since the lump cannot be seen or felt, they use radiation along with a computerized program to locate it and then insert a biopsy needle at those coordinates. Later if it needs to be removed, they perform the stereotactic procedure again however this time the shot inserts a metal wire (similar to getting an IV tube) which then sticks out of the breast and the patient is taken immediately to surgery. The physician is able to locate and remove the lump of tissue by making an incision on the breast where the wire sticks out. Then, they follow the wire until reaching the end of it where a small hook is around the lump and is then cut out. It gets sent to radiology right away to ensure that they removed all of the abnormal tissue and stitch the patient up. Very neat, but also have a heavy heart for those who go through it.
I noticed Michelle receiving many phone calls from patients where she would be consulting with and comforting them. She is great at her job and helps these survivors to be strong– which is crucial!
I learned the anatomy of the breast and had to pick lumps out of a sample breast that Michelle had. At first it was difficult to do, but once she explained the texture of the breast and the texture of a cyst/lump, it was simple. A cyst has harder edges or boundaries and does not move where natural lumps in the breast will move or squish around when pushed on.
I also learned how to administer a breast self exam (BSE). SBE is the #1 form of prevention. Mammograms are another form of prevention and should be done annually beginning at the age of 40 unless instructed otherwise. For those ages 20-30, a clinical breast exam by your doctor should be done every 3 years.
Probably the most important thing that I learned about doing the BSE is to check yourself on the same day each month, preferably the day after your menstrual cycle. This is important because women’s breasts naturally feel lumpy and frequently change throughout each month. Once you perform the BSE on the same day each month, you get a good idea of what is normal and how your breasts feel. It will be easier to catch something unfamiliar when done this way.
Interesting fact: The greatest risk factor for breast cancer is being a woman. One in eight (1:8) women are expected to get breast cancer in their lifetime. Prevention is our best protection!
Overall, a great day and experience! Really enjoyed Breast Health– who knows, maybe one day my career will be in this specialty!
Anatomy and structures of breast
How to do a Breast Self Exam (BSE)
Daily hours: 8
Total hours: 72