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Longtime Arlington resident Rebecca knows Virginia Hospital Center well. In 2009, Rebecca received physical therapy for lymphedema in her right arm. Lymphedema causes swelling, often in one arm or leg, and is caused by a malfunctioning lymphatic system. Virginia Hospital Center’s lymphedema specialists are fully certified by the National Lymphedema Network and have extensive experience in treating this condition. Rebecca was happy to have this expertise and treatment close to home.
Because of a family history of breast cancer, Rebecca began having annual mammograms at age 35 on the advice of her OB/GYN, Dr. Jane Piness. In November 2013, following her regular mammogram, Virginia Hospital Center Radiologist, Dr. Sarah Mezban, reviewed Rebecca’s results and recommended that she have a follow-up 3D mammogram for additional and more detailed analysis. Her 3D mammography results lead to an ultrasound and then biopsy, and the resulting diagnosis was that Rebecca unfortunately had breast cancer.
Dr. Molly Sebastian, of the Reinsch Pierce Family Center for Breast Health, at Virginia Hospital Center removed Rebecca’s tumor and found that cancer was present in her lymph nodes. Rebecca’s cancer was staged as 2A breast cancer and she underwent an sentinal node biopsy to remove two malignant lymph nodes. Rebecca’s treatment also included radiation therapy and chemotherapy and she chose Virginia Hospital Center’s multi-disciplinary team of Dr. Robert Hong of the Hitt Family Center for Radiation Oncology and Dr. Neelima Denduluri of Virginia Cancer Specialists as her physicians. “Those three (Dr. Hong, Dr. Sebastian, and Dr. Denduluri) are the dream team,” she said. “They communicate with one another about your treatment and what is best for you, the patient.” She started chemotherapy at Virginia Hospital Center’s Outpatient Infusion Center in February 2014, and had eight infusions over 16 weeks.
With a short month long break following chemotherapy, Rebecca started radiation treatments in August of 2014. She underwent 35 radiation treatment sessions, one each day for seven weeks. “You see the same people when receiving treatment and you get to know the other patients and staff,” she said. “Everyone was so wonderful and caring.”
Rebecca used many cancer support services available at Virginia Hospital Center including the Cancer Resource Center’s Barbra Marcus Kolton Cancer Resource Library and cancer support classes. The most valuable resource to Rebecca has been the Hospital’s STAR program, which she continues to use today. The STAR program combines a number of physical therapeutic interventions, during and after cancer treatment, to restore the mind and body. With nearly 50 STAR certified care givers at Virginia Hospital Center, these therapists provide a holistic approach to rehabilitation for the mind and body, offering individualized treatment plans to meet the unique needs of each patient.
With Rebecca’s prior history of lymphedema, which is often a complication of breast cancer treatment, she worked with her physical therapist, Dawn Marrapodi, to prepare her arms and surgery site for the procedure. Post surgery, fluid accumulated near the surgery site and Rebecca couldn’t reach her arm above her head, so physical therapy restored her range of motion. The STAR program focuses on addressing the specific difficulties experienced by cancer patients including physical and cognitive difficulties. “I was having trouble remembering if I did certain things and I would repeat certain tasks,” Rebecca explained. “Your brain needs to be exercised too after treatment. Through the STAR program, I am working at approaching tasks in a different way,” said Rebecca.
Rebecca is now thriving after treatment, going back to work full-time and preparing to restart her master’s degree early next year. “I am so lucky and blessed to have Virginia Hospital Center. The level of care you get here is unbelievable and it is why it is a 100 Top Hospital,” she said. “The doctors here are experts in their field. I had the A-team to fight cancer.”
Rebecca’s experience reflects Virginia Hospital Center’s commitment to providing world class, personalized care to our community. Donor support of our multi-disciplinary oncology program ensures that our nationally recognized medical team has access to state-of-the-art technology and the latest medical advances.