Best of a Bad Situation: Breast Cancer Survivor Encourages Women to Take Charge of Their Own Bodies

As a breast cancer survivor, Barbara Harvey advises women to “take charge of their own bodies,” and has inspired many friends who have experienced health issues.

One in eight American women will hear in her lifetime that she has breast cancer. When Barbara Harvey, 67, received her diagnosis in July 2017, she describes it as “The best of a bad situation.”

Diligent about receiving mammograms, Harvey had also experienced lumps in her breast previously, so she wasn’t especially concerned when the hospital called her back for a biopsy to test a lump detected in her left breast after a mammogram on June 29, 2017.

However, the biopsy revealed that the lump was malignant, but the good news was that her cancer was Stage I, and it hadn’t spread beyond the breast. Surgery and radiation were required, and Harvey was scheduled to see a surgeon, but she was urged by her friends to seek a second opinion.

“My feeling was, ‘It’s my body; I want to decide who’s cutting into me,‘” said Harvey.

So Harvey arranged for a second opinion with Jamie Caughran, MD, FACS, fellowship-trained breast surgeon and medical director of Oncologic Surgical Subspecialties, Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center, less than a week after her biopsy.

Before meeting with Caughran for her consult, Harvey brought along a friend who works in the cancer field, who told her, “We can still meet with the other surgeon. Don’t feel like you have to make a decision today.” During the consult, according to Harvey, Caughran explained the process “perfectly, so that I felt completely comfortable with everything that was going to happen.”


Barbara Harvey and her daughter.

Harvey was impressed and decided to not even meet with the other surgeon. She had her lumpectomy scheduled on July 19 with Caughran, who was going to utilize a device, called BioZorb, which helps lumpectomy patients in two ways: It acts as scaffolding on which to rearrange breast tissue for better aesthetic outcomes, and it also includes internal markers to improve accuracy of radiation treatment. Both fellowship-trained breast surgeons, Caughran, and Jessica Keto, MD, have been using BioZorb for lumpectomy patients for nearly two years at Mercy Health Lacks Center, the only cancer center to use BioZorb in West Michigan.

Radiation oncologists also appreciate the benefits of BioZorb. “BioZorb facilitates our ability to be very targeted with radiation during a typical whole-breast radiation treatment course,” said Brandon Mancini, MD, MBA, medical director, Radiation Oncology at Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center. “We are able to significantly reduce the amount of radiation that a woman’s normal breast tissue, chest wall, and even her skin receives, which improves safety for our patients and reduces potential treatment-related side effects.”

During the lumpectomy, Caughran removed the tumor and some surrounding tissue to ensure that no cancer cells were left behind — equaling the size of a ping pong ball — and also took out four lymph nodes, which all “came back clean,” said Harvey, which indicates that the cancer most likely did not spread to any other part of her body. A BioZorb device was placed in Harvey’s breast to maximize her cancer treatment and cosmetic results.

“My recovery from surgery was no problem,” said Harvey. “You really cannot tell any difference between my left and right breast, thanks to Caughran’s skill.”

Harvey then began 19 radiation treatment sessions under the expert care of Mancini during the late summer of 2017. Thanks to her overwhelming support system, during each radiation treatment, Harvey covered herself up with a handmade quilt, which has a story of its own.

Close-up of quilt that Harvey’s friends made for her that she wore during her radiation treatments at Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center.

Upon hearing of her breast cancer diagnosis, dozens of friends and family members each decorated quilt squares that spoke to Harvey of hope, peace and power. Friends who didn’t live in town even emailed their inspirational phrases to her friend creating the quilt to be included.

“I wasn’t nervous during my treatments at Lacks,” recalled Harvey. “Everything happened very quickly; I had the best care and support from my care team and from my family and friends. I have just dealt with everything one day at a time.”

Now on the other side of her treatment, Harvey still goes back in to Lacks Cancer Center for routine check-ups and takes a daily endocrine therapy pill to reduce her risk of breast cancer recurrence.

“‘You are in charge of your own body,’ I tell my friends, many of whom are also suffering from health issues, including breast cancer,” said Harvey.

Thanks to this attitude, Harvey spreads hope and courage to others who may be facing difficult life circumstances. “I could either be pushing up daisies or smelling them,” said Harvey. “I’d rather be smelling them!”


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