View Mobile Site
 
Posted: October 19, 2013 3:04 p.m.

Doctor shares breast cancer journey

Dr. Amanda Bauer has seen an angry patient or two in her time as a breast radiologist. Cancer is an ugly word, and breast cancer comes with its own weight, so emotions can run high. But when they do, Bauer is unfazed. She has a secret weapon.

She’s a breast cancer survivor.

"The best part of (my cancer experience) is that I can help patients," said Bauer, who specializes in breast imaging. "When I see patients who may be distrustful of the medical profession, or a few who are angry and need to take it out on somebody, they’ll say, ‘You don’t know what it feels like’ or imply that. I can tell my story and immediately see in their face it makes a world of difference.

"I do feel really fortunate to be able to tell them that."

Ironically, Bauer’s own experience with breast cancer in late 2007 was noteworthy for its lack of emotion.

Not all cancers created equally

"I went through all those emotions when I saw the images. I was shocked. When my colleague was like, ‘Come here and look at this,’ all of that sinks in, and you’re like, ‘Holy crap, noooo!’ But I think I went through (that) a lot quicker than most people, probably a half day," Bauer said.

Self-described as "one of the most analytical people" around, Bauer was able to approach her cancer with knowledge and perspective. And one of the most significant pieces of knowledge is that not all cancers are created equal.

Bauer had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which the Mayo Clinic describes as abnormal cells inside a milk duct. It "is considered the earliest form of breast cancer" and "noninvasive, meaning it hasn’t spread out of the milk duct to invade other parts of the breast."

The lack of any evidence of invasion was a huge relief, and a biopsy confirmed there was no microinvasion; the prognosis was positive.

"It’s so funny; I got a phone call from my colleagues — we had known it was cancer right off the bat — and usually they say they have bad news, but when they saw the type of cancer, they said it was good news, ‘It’s low grade.’ I remember jumping up and down. ‘It’s only low grade. Yay! Yay!’" Bauer said. "That makes a huge difference. A lot of patients wouldn’t have known; they would hear ‘cancer’ and think one thing, but it’s a huge spectrum."

In the middle of their initial conversation, Bauer’s mother asked, "How can you be so nonchalant?"

Bauer knows she is blessed, so much so that she sometimes feels guilty. When younger people get cancer, it’s generally a more intense, high-grade type because it’s more likely to be genetically influenced. Bauer’s wasn’t — she has theories about environmental influences, such as taking birth control pills for 10-15 years, drinking a lot of milk when growing up, higher levels of estrogen.

"Part of me feels guilty saying I’m a cancer survivor, because my type of cancer was less invasive," Bauer said. "It did have consequences; I don’t have either breast."

Even the loss of her breasts wasn’t particularly troubling to Bauer.

"I really didn’t miss my breasts," Bauer said matter- of-factly. "I can’t speak for other people, but I had such an easy time letting go of my breasts. I know other people may not. You hear the worst thing is a mastectomy, but, for me, it took about an hour to get over that."

Though cancer was found only in one breast, Bauer decided to have both breasts removed and rebuilt. She had to stop breastfeeding her newborn son, but she wanted to lessen the chance of any recurrence. And, it’s easier to have a symmetrical chest when both breasts are reconstructed at the same time.

In another ironic twist, Bauer no longer needs to receive mammograms, the very scans that she studies for a living.

Devil in the discolorations

Bauer graduated from the University of Michigan’s medical school in 2000, seven years before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She chose radiology because it offered a good lifestyle balance.

"I don’t have to take overnight calls, I don’t work weekends unless I’m really busy, and I can work from home and I love it. It fit, and I found that even more when I did it," Bauer said. "It fit my personality and talents really well. I’m so happy I’m able to do this.

"I love the pattern recognition in reading mammograms, and it’s good that I have a high attention span when reading things over and over again. I like the mundane; I like getting into the groove … all the doctors who want all the excitement go to the ER; I hated the ER," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

Bauer now spends part of her week working from home, reading thousands of mammograms on special five-megapixel, high-resolution monitors — mammograms can’t be read accurately on regular monitors, though some other scans can — and part of her week at Newton Medical Center, meeting with patients in person. Bauer is actually part of a private practice, Quantum Medical Radiology, but the group contracts with Newton Medical. For Bauer, the personal interactions with both the staff and patients are rewarding.

"(If I only read mammograms from home) day in and day out, I might go a little insane. Coming here and seeing folks and how I’m helping them means a lot," Bauer said.

"I’ve always loved what I do, but (my cancer experience) may have increased my confidence. I can go in and be able to relate to patients. … When I see other patients who may be in the same situation, I almost want to hug them and say, ‘Oh, it really isn’t going to be that bad.’ I want to tell them that."

 

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...