In 2016, Sherita Kelly, despite being in the best shape of her life, was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, an advanced stage of breast cancer extending beyond the immediate tumor region but not yet invading other organs.
After her 40th birthday, Kelly, a military spouse and native of Columbus, Georgia, was recommended and requested a mammogram through her Primary Care Manager (PCM) even though she regularly performed self-exams and never detected abnormalities. The American Cancer Society recommends annual mammograms for women ages 40-44.
Once her mammogram was completed and she was informed of the diagnosis, Kelly didn’t know what to do next.
“I had multiple tumors but I never felt them,” said Kelly. “I didn’t know where to go or who to see.”
William Beaumont Army Medical Center has operated a cancer program fully approved by the American College of Surgeons, Commission on Cancer since 1954. Recent reports from the Commission on Cancer highlight WBAMC’s adherence to standardized guidelines on cancer screening and treatments.
“We can treat most cancer patients, except those requiring inpatient chemotherapy which we can’t (logistically) support,” said Dr. Warren Alexander, staff physician, Hematology/ Oncology Clinic. “As part of the Commission on Cancer, we do make a concerted effort to participate in screenings, not just for malignancies but for other (issues) to make the quality of life of our patients a little bit better.”
Over the past few years, WBAMC’s cancer treatment has been above the national average for administration and reporting radiation and chemotherapy after diagnosis, according to the Commission on Cancer, a program dedicated to improving survival and quality of life for cancer patients through standard-setting, prevention, research and education.
“We have evidenced-based information that proves we are consistently above other Commission on Cancer sites when you pull all the data,” said Alexander, a San Francisco native. “Quarterly reports look at data and administration of radiation (therapy) after breast cancer therapy as well as mastectomy, we’re almost across the board 100 percent.”
According to Alexander, other measures also includes recommended treatments following the Commission on Cancer’s standardized guidelines, of which WBAMC is reported at 100 percent compliance.
“Even as guidelines change, we adapt,” said Alexander, who was recently recognized as one of the top specialty-care doctors in the Army. “(WBAMC) is above the national average in surgical outcomes. When you adhere to the guidelines you have a tendency to have good outcomes.”
Because of WBAMC’s proactive approach to recommended screenings, which incorporates everyone in a patient’s line of care, Kelly’s persistent PCM’s recommendations for a mammogram led to detecting Kelly’s cancer before it metastasized to stage four breast cancer, considered to be incurable.
“I was diagnosed in July, had a right mastectomy in September and started chemotherapy on Oct. 6,” said Kelly. “From the very first time I walked into the office, the physician explained everything. (Treatment) was difficult but the staff here made it easier, compared to how it could have been.”
After 28 treatments of radiation therapy, Kelly’s cancer went into remission.
Because of her experience during her battle, Kelly, already a registered nurse specializing in emergency medicine, is hoping to pursuit an education to also specialize in oncology. With the assistance of outside organizations, Kelly began initiated and began volunteering in the hospital’s Survivorship Group, a group aimed at comforting and educating other patients diagnosed with cancers.
“Once you’re diagnosed, your life completely changes. It’s always in the back of your head, how do I live without constantly thinking about whether it’s going to come back again,” said Kelly.
In addition to a full-team approach, WBAMC’s access to care and the military’s comprehensive health care which covers retirees and family members, also played a vital role in Kelly’s treatments.
“Having a team effort is important to be able to push patients from one clinic to another to include primary care,” said Alexander. “If you need a colonoscopy, mammogram… you can get one versus in the private sector where there may be a cost that may prohibit you from doing so. (WBAMC screenings) are free, (patients) just have to get it.”
Through adherence to guidelines and proactive screenings, WBAMC’s cancer program continuously contributes to Army readiness through patient-friendly access to high-quality healthcare.
Author: Marcy Sanchez – WBAMC