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Local high school teacher learns breast cancer can strike at any age

Published on | Eric Brown

School was out for the year and the July 4 holiday was approaching – two perfect reasons to celebrate. However, for Carman-Ainsworth High School health teacher Abbey Cowen, summer plans were about to change.

In June 2007, Abbey went to see her primary care physician – Renee Krusniak, DO, for her usual annual physical.

That day was the beginning of an unexpected journey for the 26-year old.

Dr. Krusniak felt a lump in Abbey’s breast, and it was cause for concern. The doctor ordered an ultrasound and didn’t like what she saw.

Next step: a referral to Linsey Gold, DO, FACOS, FACS, fellowship trained breast surgeon. She conducted a biopsy in hopes the results would give Abbey reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, Dr. Gold was delivering bad news to Abbey a day before the July 4th holiday.

“She felt I should know the results right away, not after the holiday,” Abbey recalls vividly.

She was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer.

Triple-negative breast cancer is any cancer that tests negative for the hormones estrogen and progesterone and a protein called HER2 — that drive other forms of the disease. Triple-negative breast cancer is more aggressive than other forms of cancer. It’s more likely to spread beyond the breast, and there’s a higher chance it will come back within the first three years after treatment. It’s also more likely to be fatal within the first five years. But once a patient gets through those milestones, the odds of beating it are about the same as someone with any other type of breast cancer.

“I’m 26 years old, I know breast cancer runs in my family, but I still was surprised with this diagnosis.” Abbey points out.

Dr. Gold set up an appointment for Abbey shortly after the July 4th holiday.

The whole family arrived to meet Dr. Gold and learn about Abbey’s prognosis and treatment plan.

Dr. Gold recommended starting with chemotherapy at Genesys Hurley Cancer Institute, followed by a lumpectomy, and finishing with a few rounds of radiation therapy. Dr. Gold also asked Abbey if she would enroll in a clinical trial underway to determine if certain medications were more effective than others in treating Abbey’s form of cancer.

Dr. Gold and Abbey together explored the treatment options and Abbey agreed on the plan the breast surgeon proposed.

Abbey describes Dr. Gold as down to earth, very supportive, and “one of the nicest people I have ever met. I just love her. I knew she was choosing the very best plan for me, and my family all felt the same way about her. She spent as much time with us as we needed.”

Treatments and surgery all went like clockwork. But, after five years cancer-free, Abbey learned she had breast cancer in the opposite breast. A mammogram and MRI confirmed it.

This time, Abbey chose a double mastectomy with reconstruction. “I wasn’t going through this ordeal a third time,” she says with confidence in her voice.

Today, 12 years after her initial diagnosis, Abbey is in the clear. She no longer needs any follow up visits with Dr. Gold.

“I still have her cell number and she says I can call her any time. She still texts me from time to time to check in on me. She is such a phenomenal surgeon and person. She IS the one to go to.”

Younger women can get breast cancer

Often, a breast cancer diagnosis is delayed in younger women because they don’t think it can happen to them and they ignore the warning signs – a new breast lump, a change in the shape of the breast or an unusual discharge, for example. By the time a lump in a younger woman’s breast can be felt, the cancer may be advanced. Also, younger women tend to have denser breasts, and diagnosing breast cancer is more difficult.

About 11 percent of all new breast cancer cases in the US are detected in women under the age of 35. More importantly, when breast cancer is diagnosed at a young age (under the age of 40), it can be more aggressive and fast-growing.

That is why women need to know their personal risk factors and take preventive steps. To learn about these risk factors, the different challenges younger women face with a breast cancer diagnosis, how to screen for breast cancer and treatment options, read the story in Comprehensive Breast Care’s blog entitled I’m under 40; should I worry about getting breast cancer?

Clinical trials are an important component of cancer care

According to National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines, “the best management of any cancer patient is in a clinical trial. Participation in clinical trials is especially encouraged. Dr. Gold and her colleague, Eric Brown, MD, FACS, actively pursue this mission. They are involved in many trials and the results of these studies are frequently published in peer reviewed journals. You can take a look at current trials, found under the Clinical Services tab of Comprehensive Breast Care. Many of the trials listed  will be “practice changing.” Comprehensive Breast Care is committed to providing its patients with access to as many clinical trials as possible that have the potential to impact patient outcomes tremendously.

Linsey Gold, DO, FACOS, FACS, is a fellowship trained breast surgeon who has been caring for breast patients since 2006. She is certified in breast ultrasound. Dr. Gold was named the first Director of the Comprehensive Breast Center at Genesys Regional Medical Center in 2006 where she served for three years. After that, she opened her own private practice – the Michigan Center for Breast Health. She is actively involved with the American Society of Breast Surgeons and is an investigator and participant in a number of clinical trials, under the oversight of the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Gold serves on several national breast cancer organizations and serves as a reviewer for the American Society of Breast Surgeons Ultrasound Certification program since 2007. 

Dr. Brown and Dr. Gold work at Comprehensive Breast Care, located at 4967 Crooks Road in Troy. To reach the physicians, call 248.687.7300.

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