Helping raise her niece, Alexis, is one of Barb Fritz’s greatest joys. The McElhattan resident cherishes every opportunity to help volunteer and participate in activities at Alexis’ school. The road that led back to this life wasn’t an easy one, however. After a difficult breast cancer journey, Barb is grateful to be cancer-free and able to do all the things she did before her diagnosis.
At age 46, Barb was stunned to learn that a suspicious-looking lymph node, found in a mammogram at Susquehanna Health’s Kathryn Candor Lundy Breast Health Center, was positive for breast cancer. A pathology report following a lumpectomy (breast-conserving surgery to remove the lump), performed by Dr. Susan Branton, found that Barb had an aggressive breast cancer with a high risk for recurrence. The cancer was stage 3.
“I remember saying, ‘I’m just not prepared,’” says Barb. “It just didn’t compute. How could it be this bad?” Dr. Branton was encouraging as she outlined Barb’s treatment recommendations, which included six months of aggressive chemotherapy with medical oncologist Dr. Charles Agbemabiese, a second surgery to ensure clean margins, radiation treatments under the care of radiation oncologist Dr. David Nagel and, because her cancer was estrogenreceptive, taking medication to prevent recurrence. Barb ultimately decided to trust her doctors at Susquehanna Health. “I didn’t want to be away from my home and family,” she says. “We made the decision to go to Susquehanna Health, and we never regretted it.”
The Cancer Center’s holistic approach appealed to Barb. When the road to healing brought unexpected twists and turns, that approach became more important. When she developed a painful condition that impaired her arm, she saw a physical therapist. When chemo-induced menopause triggered mood swings and hot flashes, she met with a Susquehanna Health OB/GYN. She even received a diagnosis and treatment for a pre-existing condition that threatened her overall mobility. “I was petrified through almost every step. I had to fake it a bit at times, but no matter what happened or how down I felt, the team always turned me around,” says Barb. “Someone could always comfort me or find a solution to my problem. They helped me mentally get around this yearlong battle.” Barb was most fearful of chemotherapy.
After meeting with Dr. Agbemabiese, she peeked into the treatment area and was invited in for a tour by an oncology nurse. “She showed me everything, where the seats are, the televisions and just how inviting the room really is,” says Barb. That visit, and her first chemotherapy session with a nurse who talked her through the procedure and set expectations, helped make it a more comfortable experience. The treatment was hard on her, but for every question or side effect, Karen, Dr. Agbemabiese’s oncology nurse, always responded the same day. During her radiation treatments, which was part of her initial treatment plan, Barb began feeling better and stronger.
As with many cancer patients, Barb feared the cancer returning post-treatment. Dr. Nagel eased her mind about recurrences by describing her aggressive cancer like a chronic condition—one that was becoming more treatable thanks to research. Through the Cancer Center’s survivorship program, Barb received a comprehensive overview of her treatments and met with a nutritionist. Barb opted to participate in a clinical trial after the radiation therapy, so she had an additional year of treatment. She focused on rebuilding her strength through diet and exercise, especially working out in the pool. She also dipped her toes into volunteering at her niece’s school.
Now one year cancer-free, with the clinical trial recently completed, Barb is focused on staying strong and healthy. Grateful for the support of her husband, family and friends, and her Susquehanna Health team, she is immersing herself in all the “ordinary” things that she may have taken for granted prior to her diagnosis. “When you go through something like this, you recognize that those moments—time spent with family and friends—are the ones that you want more of,” she says. “When I catch myself getting distracted by projects or old worries, I quickly remember what is most important.”