Breast cancer survivor feels like part of the team
Tammy Barta walked alongside her mother when she received her breast cancer diagnosis in 1993. She had seen Matthew Stein, MD, then a physician at the LMH Health Cancer Center, and knew when her mom received the news that she better prepare herself and take all precautions now in case one day she got the same call.
"In my mind, it was never if I would get breast cancer, but when," Barta said. "I had prepared myself for years about what I would do if I ever found a lump. Of course, I checked myself regularly and on my birthday in February of 2021 when I went to bed, I noticed a knot under my breast."
She called her doctor the morning after discovering the knot, and they sent her to have a sonogram as soon as possible at the LMH Health West Campus. While nothing appeared on Barta’s mammogram the previous November after this mammogram, the radiologist and technician both said it looked pretty serious.
"They had me in the next day for a biopsy and just a couple of days later they called to confirm that it was cancer," she said. "I was ok because I had it in my mind all these years. For my family, it was much tougher. After my husband had finished processing, we told our kids and the family."
When Barta's mom was going through cancer, she and her stepdad cared for her. Her stepdad now lives with her and her family and she said having someone who had walked this road before as a resource made a huge impact.
Meeting the teams
When it was time for treatment, Barta said she ended up needing chemotherapy, but not radiation. She met with Jennifer Hawasli, MD, a breast surgeon with Lawrence Breast Specialists, who walked her through what was next.
"Dr. Hawasli answered all the questions I had about my surgery. She was sweet and kind and stayed positive," Barta said. "She would affirm me that we could get this cancer out and would explain every step of the way what I would have done, why and it always gave me clarity knowing what was going on."
From Left to right: Dr. Jennifer Hawasli, Dr. Scarlett Aldrich, Tammy Barta, Dr. Andrew Meyer, Amy Shealy, Nurse Navigator
In the coming days, she met with Andrew Meyer, MD, an oncologist with the LMH Health Cancer Center and Scarlett Aldrich, MD, a plastic surgeon with Plastic Surgery Specialists of Lawrence. Those experiences continued to put her at ease, knowing she was going to receive great care.
"Dr. Meyer is the sweetest man in the whole wide world. He was always reassuring and kind. Since we caught it early enough, he assured me it was only stage one but we needed to move fast," Barta said. "I met with Dr. Aldrich about breast reconstruction and she was amazing at explaining everything. During my visit, she looked at everything she needed to, provided some wonderful suggestions and let me make my own decision on reconstruction."
Time for treatment
Barta remembers it all happening so quickly. She found the lump on February 28, 2021. Her port was put in on March 25 and began her journey through chemotherapy on April 6.
"From diagnosis to treatment, it all happened within a month. No one hesitated or missed a beat, it was boom, boom, boom and I was ready for treatment," Barta said. "I truly have to give credit to my coordinator as well. There is a lot of information that comes your way. They gave me a printout that just gave me clear answers and schedules telling me where to be at what time. It made that portion so easy."
Barta’s team determined she would need six rounds of chemotherapy. She would receive six different infusions when she went into treatment and since she was HER+ would need 6 rounds of infusions for that diagnosis as well. She said the nurses and medical staff were always kind and checked in often to make sure she was comfortable and doing alright.
"The team would offer me blankets and snacks and would constantly check in and ask questions to make sure I was ok. Every time they would come care for me, they would explain exactly what they were doing," she said. "Though I was supposed to have six chemo infusions, by mid-July 2021 I had become incredibly sick and didn't know if I could continue with the treatments."
Barta's sickness lead to low magnesium and potassium and she became anemic. She needed blood transfusions, magnesium and potassium infusions, and fluids and later became an inpatient at LMH Health because she had nephrites.
"This whole time, with any complication I had, the nurses continued to treat me wonderfully and were very responsive in getting things done and talking with me about my condition," Barta said. "After my fifth chemo treatment, Dr. Meyer decided it would not be smart to complete the sixth. This scared me. My brain would say 'but what if, what if.' Dr. Meyer talked me through this and said my body needed to heal before we began the double mastectomy and reconstruction."
Once her body had healed, she met again with Drs. Hawasli and Aldrich to discuss surgery and reconstruction. The process was again seamless and before she knew it, it was time for the procedure.
Barta previously had breast reduction surgery, so the process wasn't completely unfamiliar. The team continued to assure her everything would be alright. After the surgery, she went home and began her recovery.
"Not too long after the surgery, I got a call from Dr. Hawasli," Barta said. "She asked if my husband was around since he was with me every step of the way at the appointments, treatments and everything. I said yes and she asked that I put him on speaker phone. She said she didn't usually call but she had to let us know some good news. She said 'Tammy we got it. We got all the cancer.' At my next appointment with her, she couldn't wait to give me a big hug and I was just overjoyed. These people were now like great friends and family to me. To hear this news was incredible."
She said her care team made her feel like she was also part of the team. There were no decisions made for Barta - they gave her all the information, made sure she felt calm and let her make the decisions that were best for her. She knows she made the right decision staying in Lawrence for her care.
"Years ago I worked in IT at LMH Health at a time where the reputation was that LMH wasn't the best place for your care," Barta said. "It brings me so much joy to see how much has changed and how incredible the care that we offer our community is. I could not imagine having a better experience or a better care team. They made sure I was healthy, mentally and physically, and never made me seem like just another patient. I was always their number one priority when I was in their care."
Barta was amazed to see that even when the team seemed like they were running 100 miles a minute, they still checked in to talk with her and make sure she was hanging in there.
"I have nothing but wonderful things to say. Even the scars from my surgery were fantastic, I don't even see them," Barta said. "I am grateful to be back to work full-time and doing things with my family. If I see any member of my care team out in public, I would without a doubt give them a hug. I recommend the team at LMH Health to everyone and could not imagine receiving better care anywhere else."