Survivor Story: Cape Coral Woman Stays Vigilant After Cancer ScareCancer Care
You can bet the farm that Beverly Cadunzi will get her mammogram screen this year. Especially after what she went through in late 2019 and the first few months of 2020 — when COVID-19 landed.
But Beverly’s story isn’t about how one person survived the pandemic. She’s never tested positive for the coronavirus, thankfully. Rather, her story is about how paying attention to the smallest things can sometimes make a big difference.
In Beverly’s case, maybe a life-saving difference.
Beverly’s story begins Nov. 18, 2019, when she had a mammogram screen at one of Lee Health’s Outpatient Breast Health Imaging Centers.
For the record, Beverly’s big on preventive health screenings for people of all ages. She’s a spry 79 years young.
“I like to think I’m taking care of myself when I get them,” she says. “I’m especially vigilant about getting mammograms because my mother and sister both died of ovarian cancer. I try to get all the health screenings recommended for me.”
Indeed, after relocating to Cape Coral from New Jersey in 2015, Beverly didn’t miss a heartbeat with her check-ups. She continued with her screenings, including her November 2019 mammogram.
The next day, though, she returned to the Breast Health Center at Surfside to have additional mammogram views and a sonogram on her left breast.
These procedures revealed two tiny areas that led Dr. Joseph Tienstra, a diagnostic radiology specialist with Florida Radiology Consultants, to recommend that Beverly receive an ultrasound core biopsy of the left breast for more information about the suspicious findings.
‘I was in denial’
Doctors often use additional tests to find or diagnose breast cancer, which doesn’t always mean a person has cancer or they need surgery. Ultrasound core biopsy uses a hollow needle to remove a sample of breast tissue for examination under a microscope.
That December, Beverly underwent three more tests: an MRI of both breasts, an ultrasound of her left breast, and that ultrasound core biopsy.
“That’s when they sent me to the Regional Cancer Center in Fort Myers,” Beverly recalls. “I was in denial about the possibility that the suspicious areas could be cancer.”
She met with breast surgeon Dr. David T. Rock at Regional Cancer Center, who told her that the spots were suspicious.
Beverly refused to admit the possibility. “My frame of mind was: I don’t have the genes for these cancers. I don’t have cancer. These people are wrong,” she says.
“In fact, I took a genetic test in 2008 to see if I could pass to my children the genes for ovarian or breast cancers.”
Beverly learned she had tested negative for the genes.
“In my mind, I’m negative, which means I don’t have the genes, and I’m free of ovarian cancer or breast cancer. I’m not going to get either.”
Explaining genetic tests
Dr. Bianca Ferrari, a hematologist-oncologist with Lee Physician Group and the Multidisciplinary Breast Clinic at the Regional Cancer Center, explains that a negative result may mean that you don't have the mutation or that you might have a gene mutation that doctors haven't discovered yet.
“Your test might also identify a gene mutation that doctors aren't certain about,” Dr. Ferrari says. “In these situations, it's not always clear what the results mean for your cancer risk.”
A negative test result also doesn’t rule out the possibility of later developing breast cancer later. In fact, most breast cancer cases are not hereditary, as in Beverly’s case.
On Feb. 7, 2020, Beverly underwent surgery to have the suspicious areas removed and examined for cancerous cells. As it turns out, they were cancerous. Dr. Rock, Beverly’s surgeon, also removed some of her lymph nodes as a preventive measure.
By 3 p.m. later that same day, Beverly was cleared for discharge to return home.
Safety During COVID – and At All Times
In mid-March—when COVID-19 put the nation under lockdown—Beverly began the first of 20 radiation therapy sessions to reduce her risks of possible cancer developing in the affected breast.
“COVID-19 got really bad at the time,” Beverly recalls. “I thought for sure I wasn’t going to be able to finish my radiation treatment.”
However, Lee Health enacted extraordinary safety measures to protect patients and clinical staff. Beverly and other patients like her were able to receive the acute care services they needed. The phrase “healthcare heroes” became a national meme.
“I’m just so thankful they continued my treatment,” Beverly says. “It was a godsend.”
Beverly completed her radiation treatment on April 13, 2020.
“Just think if my medical technologist who performed my ultrasound and mammogram back in 2019 hadn’t found those suspicious areas,” Beverly asks. “I wondered how much bigger those tumors could have gotten? My life would look probably much different. My doctor agrees that it took an excellent technologist to catch those two spots. They were so tiny!”
Beverly expressed her gratitude for her exceptional technologist by gifting her and the staff with a box of chocolate-covered strawberries.
But with Beverly, gratitude isn’t a one-time gesture. It’s a year-round practice. She still sees her technologist regularly for her mammograms and other preventive tests.
Nearly a year later, Beverly continues to receive a clean bill of health.
Beverly’s cancer care team included:
- Matthew Assing, M.D., diagnostic radiology specialist with Florida Radiology Consultants.
- Diana McEnerney, director, Lee Health Breast Centers.
- Medical technology department, Lee Health Breast Centers.
- Kristina Mirabeau-Beale, M.D., a board-certified radiation oncologist with GenesisCare (formerly 21st Century Oncology) alongside Lee Health at the Regional Cancer Center.
- Venkata Parsa, M.D., a board-certified hematologist/oncologist with LPG.
- David T. Rock, M.D., a breast surgeon with GenesisCare (formerly 21st Century Oncology) alongside Lee Health at the Regional Cancer Center.
- Joseph Tienstra, M.D., a diagnostic radiology specialist with Florida Radiology Consultants.