Throughout her nine-year career, Dr. Amanda Bauer has read thousands of mammograms. But she never gets jaded about the importance of her task, because she knows something that most other radiologists don’t: what it feels like to be a breast cancer survivor.
In 2007, Bauer was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which the Mayo Clinic describes as abnormal cells inside a milk duct. Considered the earliest form of breast cancer, it’s typically 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 to Bauer, and a biopsy confirmed there was no microinvasion. Her prognosis was positive.
“I went through all these emotions when I saw the images. I was shocked. My colleague said: ‘Come here and look at this,’ and all of that was sinking in. But I think I went through (that) a lot quicker than most people, probably a half day,” said Bauer, who describes herself as “one of the most analytical people around.
Though cancer was found only in one breast, Bauer decided to have both breasts removed and rebuilt, to lessen the chance of any recurrence. Also, it’s easier to have a symmetrical chest when both breasts are reconstructed at the same time.
"Part of me feels guilty, saying I’m a cancer survivor, because my type of cancer was less invasive," Bauer said. "However, it did have consequences — I don’t have either breast.”
Today, Bauer remains cancer free, and she sees her brush with breast cancer in a positive light. In her job as a radiologist for the Women’s Diagnostic Center at Newton Medical Center, Bauer spends part of her week working from home, reading mammograms on special five-megapixel, high-resolution monitors, and part of her week at Newton Medical Center, meeting with patients in person.
"The best part of (my cancer experience) is that I can help patients," Bauer said. "Sometimes, 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.
“This experience helps me to put myself in my patients’ shoes a little better when I’m delivering difficult news,” Bauer continues. “And it can also give patients going through a recent diagnosis some comfort in knowing I’m someone they can talk to about this.”
“My daddy always said, 'every place you go should be better for you having been there,'” says Kay Goff. And, indeed, during the last 10 years, many would agree that Newton County has been richly blessed by Mrs. Goff’s presence. Goff was recently retired and a volunteer at Newton Medical Center (NMC) when she helped found the Hope Boutique in 2004. “We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary,” says Goff, “and I’d guess we’ve helped over 450 women who have struggled with breast cancer and all that goes along with that diagnosis.”
The boutique, located at the Women’s Diagnostic Center of Newton Medical Center, offers free scarves, hats, wigs, turbans, blankets, bras, prosthetic breasts, drain bags and pillows, make-up and educational material to breast cancer patients who have little or no health insurance or who are faced with a high deductible. Goff volunteers her time to run the boutique, along with other members of the NMC auxiliary and staff.
“I’d been volunteering with NMC since I retired in 2000,” Goff said, “but the first time I saw the Women’s Diagnostic Center, I knew immediately, this was where I needed to be.” A year and a half after she began volunteering at the Women’s Diagnostic Center, Goff’s decision became personal.
In 2003, Goff was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, and remains cancer-free today. In her personal journey, Goff became even more aware of what women need when they’re faced with the diagnosis.
“All of these items, like the wigs and bras, can make such a big difference for women battling breast cancer,” Goff said. “But one of the most important things we do is counsel with them about all the decisions they’re faced with — things such as breast reconstruction.
“I remember when I went through it, and the doctor was explaining my choices,” Goff said. “It was the most difficult thing I think I’ve ever dealt with. I didn’t feel trained or educated or equipped in any way to be making these kinds of decisions.”
Mrs. Goff earns patients’ trust, because she understands what they’re feeling and thinking. “In our society, women are all too often judged based on two things: their hair and their breasts,” Goff said. “After breast cancer surgery and treatment, they’ve often lost both of those physical attributes. So, they just want to hide. To be invisible.
“Our goal at the boutique is to help them feel better about themselves, and to help them understand their cancer and how they can best deal with it. In an intimate and comforting environment, we seek to educate. We help them get started with journaling. And we help them understand how important self care is — a difficult idea for women who have been used to caring for others all their lives.”
Goff’s support for the breast cancer community in Newton County also includes managing the monthly breast cancer support group offered at NMC. The group meets the last Monday of the month at 12:30 pm in the basement of the Physician’s Pavilion. “Sometimes we have a guest speaker,” Goff said. “And sometimes we just have a ‘sisters meeting.’ The way I see it, as soon as you meet another breast cancer survivor, you immediately become sisters. I believe that God gives us this amazing gift to help us through it all.”