New Breast Health Center opens

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 13, 2011

By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Rowan County women can now receive most of their breast cancer diagnostic care at one nearby location.
Local residents, medical professionals and breast cancer survivors attended a grand opening celebration Friday of the Rowan Breast Health Center, created by Rowan Regional Medical Center and its partner physicians.
The center is designed to provide comprehensive care, education and support throughout the entire breast cancer experience delivered by a team of doctors, nurses, technologists, social workers and other healthcare professionals.
Jill McNeely, breast health navigator at the center, said during a ceremony that it’s “thrilling” to see the center finally open after all the hard work and planning that went into it.
“It’s been a dream of many in this community… to be able to receive that excellent diagnostic care right here in their own backyard,” McNeely said.
The Rowan Breast Health Center, located in Rowan Regional Medical Park at 514 Corporate Circle off Julian Road, is fully accredited in mammography, stereotactic breast biopsy and breast ultrasound, including ultrasound-guided breast biopsy.
McNeely said one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.
“In the past year in our county, we’ve done about 7,000 mammographies,” McNeely said. “Fifty-two of those women have heard those four really hard words — ‘you have breast cancer’ — that changed their life forever. Early detection and early treatment leads to years of survivorship.”
Chief Operating Officer Sean Sanz cut a ceremonial ribbon at the center with one of its directors, Dr. Richard Allen, as well as N.C. Rep. Fred Steen, Rowan County Commissioner Chad Mitchell, Salisbury City Councilman Paul Woodson, Granite Quarry Mayor Mary Ponds and Rowan County Chamber of Commerce President Bob Wright.
Several breast cancer survivors were recognized during Friday’s ceremony, including Woodleaf resident Kathi Majors, who took a tour of the Rowan Breast Health Center.
Majors said she likes that everything for breast cancer diagnosis has been gathered together, because it’s stressful to have to run around to different places to get answers.
She also praised the pink accents, including the cover of a biopsy table, decorating the rooms.
“Something about seeing everything in pink just makes it feel a little bit more personal,” Majors said. “That was a terrifying experience when I went through it.”
Patients who check in for a breast health appointment can wait in a small, private room with some educational resources. Majors said she likes this room better than the bigger, “intimidating” one she used to wait in.
The center offers advanced technology, including digital mammography, which enables technologists to immediately view images on the screen, reducing the amount of time spent in the imaging suite and the need for retakes.
McNeely said patients getting regular screenings can go home after their mammograms, and someone at the center will contact them with their results. Those getting diagnostic tests are seated in a lounge area in plush robes until technologists look at their images.
Ultrasound and biopsy machines are available in nearby rooms for further examination when mammogram images aren’t clear. McNeely said patients typically receive a diagnosis — or an “all-clear” — within 48 hours.
“I waited five days at the time, and those five days were torture,” Majors said. “Now they’re at 48 hours? That’s amazing.”
In early 2008, Majors was diagnosed at age 25 after she noticed a lump during one of her breast self-exams, which she has been doing since she was 15 years old. Before that, she had gone to the doctor for unexplainable symptoms.
“I was originally told it was very unlikely it could be cancer at my age,” Majors said. “But I knew I was sick. … You know your body. If something is going on, go to the doctor. Early detection really does matter.”
After the tumor was found, Majors underwent four rounds of chemotherapy to shrink it enough so it could be removed. Before the surgery, though, she decided to go ahead and have a mastectomy. She had reconstructive surgery in late 2009, and she’s now in remission.
As the center’s breast health navigator, McNeely supports patients and families during all stages of their cancer journey — prevention, diagnosis, treatment and remission.
Majors said this kind of support is valuable even to people hearing good news. When she was told she was cancer-free after her treatment and surgery, she didn’t know what to do.
“Your life has been a roller coaster for however many years, and then suddenly it’s normal again, and it doesn’t feel normal,” Majors said. “Luckily, I have a great support system. This year, I finally had that moment where I was like, ‘I’m just me. I’m not a cancer patient.’ I’m a survivor, but I’m also just me, and I like that.”
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.