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SAVI Sister - Ann V.

Ann V.

Anaplastologist, University Oral and Maxillofacial Prosthodontists
St. Louis, MO
Treated with SAVI – August 2014

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As an anaplastologist, I have had the pleasure of working with cancer patients for 35 years. Until now, I could never really identify with their plight. Although I understood the disease, I did not understand the emotional stress that it places on the patient and the family. I make facial prosthetics for patients who have been disfigured by ablative surgery in the head and neck region. I help to make these patients fit back into society and to be able to carry on with little, or no, apparent defect. The SAVI device certainly did the same thing for me! I was able to undergo my treatment with little, if any, effect to my normal life. I will tell you about the events leading up to my diagnosis and my choice for treatment.

I went for my yearly mammogram at the Breast Health Center at Washington University in St. Louis. In the past, I have been called back numerous times for more views, so I expressed this to the technician doing my screening. She informed me that the new 3-D technology they used would alleviate many of the false alarms that were indicated by the previous digital technology. Imagine my dismay, when only a few days later I received the call that there was a suspicious area on my right breast mammogram that would need further diagnostic work up. The whirlwind of events to come was just unfolding!

It was decided that I would have a needle biopsy with ultrasound. Although we were leaving for vacation I would be called with the biopsy results. The biopsy was uncomfortable but not necessarily painful. I had the procedure and went back to work. We left for Florida as planned and just as we drove away from the rental car agency and began our vacation, the dreaded phone call came—one heck of a way to start a vacation! Yes, it was cancer. My cancer was invasive ductal carcinoma and was stage 1. I would see the surgeon when I returned to discuss my options.

My surgeon was Dr. Julie Margenthaler at the Breast Health Center at Washington University Medical Center at Barnes Jewish Hospital in Saint Louis. Strange side note: Julie and I are both from the same small town of about 3500 people and her dad was actually a classmate of mine growing up…I know small world! Dr. Margenthaler was wonderful! She was caring and informative and gave me the surgical options available. I elected to have the lumpectomy/partial mastectomy. I also had a Sentinel node biopsy with three nodes removed. Surgery was a breeze and I resumed my daily 5-mile walking regimen the following day. I was seen post-op by Dr. Margenthaler and informed that I would be seeing both a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist. My radiation oncologist would be Dr. Maria Thomas at Washington University in the Siteman Cancer Center.

Dr. Thomas gave me two options: traditional external radiation treatments which would last approximately 5-6 weeks, or internal radiation treatments with the SAVI device which would be twice daily for five days! After only a few moments of weighing the pros and cons of both types of treatment, I decided on SAVI. It came highly recommended and the results were virtually the same. The time spent in treatment was a huge factor for me, as well as the fact that it would have fewer side effects. An ultrasound was done to confirm that my situation was a candidate for SAVI. Insertion was scheduled for three weeks later. In the interim, I would see the medical oncologist, Dr. Foluso Ademuyiwa. I would not be having chemotherapy but, after the completion of radiation, I would begin a 5-year preventative daily dose of Anastrozole due to the tumor being hormone receptive. A small price to pay for remission!

Insertion was minimally uncomfortable and the device itself was not painful. I knew it was there, but no one else would have suspected if I didn’t tell them. I went for the first treatment between 7 and 8 a.m. After treatment I would go back to the office (I work in the medical complex…How convenient!!) and see patients or do lab work until time to go for the afternoon treatment, which was always within 6 hours of the morning treatment. I would head home after treatment and resume my normal activities. I felt only minimal fatigue as the five days of treatment wore on. I think passing the time at work was very beneficial. After the final treatment on Friday, the SAVI device was removed! It was a painless procedure and the steri strips held the incision site closed as it healed. The only complaint I had was not being able to take a shower for the entire eight days! How did the pioneers do it? Anyway, I rang the bell in the waiting room to signify the completion of my treatment as my husband recorded the event. The emotion swept over me as we left the building.

I had made a monumental journey in just over two months. My life was forever changed and so was my potential to find happiness in each and every moment! I am so thankful that I was able to be a candidate for the SAVI device. It made treatment a minor inconvenience and just a bump in the road, as my brother kept telling me. I would recommend SAVI to anyone who is a candidate for it. I am so thankful that I went for that yearly mammogram. It just may have saved my life!