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Anger. Anxiety due to loss of control. Frustration from having to slow down. That is how 65-year-old breast cancer patient Angela Braum felt after her diagnosis. Braum went from being completely independent and calling the shots to needing help. It was a struggle for both her and her family.
Luckily, Braum’s neighbor and friend, Lisa Chism DNP, ARPN, BC, NCMP, CSC, FAAN, FAANP, is a nurse practitioner who Braum credits with saving her life.
“She knew I had been avoiding health checkups,” said Braum. “She was nonjudgmental and told me she would work with me on weight management if I got a mammogram! She saved me in many ways that day; I received an early diagnosis and also determined that part of my weight gain was due to an underactive thyroid. Now, I am on medication for that and am losing weight.”
Braum said the most difficult part of her cancer diagnosis was letting her family see her vulnerable.
“I am a pretty strong independent woman,” said Braum. “It was very hard for my husband and children to see me dependent on others. My family was afraid that they were going to lose me, so I had to mask my concerns and be strong in front of them. Even on hard days.”
About one in eight U.S. women (about 13 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, according to breastcancer.org. In 2021, an estimated 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 49,290 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer. Cancer can develop in the tissues of breasts, affecting both men and women due to reasons such as family history or changes in genes and it progresses through stages. Symptoms would include the presence of a lump in the breast and change in the appearance of the breast. Treatment is primarily based on the type and stage of cancer, according to cancer.org. Braum suggested that other breast cancer patients bring someone with them while they are meeting with their NPs and other medical professionals.
“Sometimes when you are going through the ordeal, you only hear what you want. Having someone else with you really helps,” said Braum, who had her daughter accompany her and take notes and record the medical conversations.
Braum said that, after neglecting her health for far too long, her NP became a real source of hope.
“I like working with my NP because she treats all of me,” said Braum. “She understands a woman’s body, what women go through based on our age. The NP was the only medical person that thought to check my thyroid.”
Braum explained that the compassion and care she received from her NP turned something terrible into a much more positive experience than expected.
“To be advised that you have a killer growing in you and not falling apart due to the kindness and confidence of my caretakers was helpful,” said Braum.
Dr. Lisa Chism developed a dedicated clinic for breast patients in Michigan after she realized that her breast cancer patients’ menopause symptoms were not being addressed. Chism became certified as a menopause practitioner through the North American Menopause Society and developed expertise helping women with their symptoms that were a result of treatment. She also focused on medical problems that present because patients with menopause may be unable to use hormone therapy. This led to her also realizing there was an overlap with sexual health concerns that were not being addressed. From there, Chism became certified as a American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) certified sexuality counselor and developed expertise in that area. In addition, she also garnered expertise caring for patients with new breast concerns and those who are at risk for breast cancer. Chism has been practicing in that area for 12 years.
“The most difficult part of my role is meeting a patient for the first time and having to share very traumatic information,” said Chism. “I have only moments to develop a rapport with patients and then gain their trust and confidence. I have a short time to share with them difficult news but also outline a plan to reduce their anxiety. A plan typically will give patients the hope they need to process the information and begin to heal.”
Braum was diagnosed in July 2021, and she just had surgery on September 10, 2021, which was successful, and it appears all the cancer is gone.
Braum advised other breast cancer patients to be kind to themselves throughout their treatment.
“Take it one step at a time,” said Braum. “Do not do internet research. Pick a health care provider that you trust. Referrals are a good way to go. Really listen to your health care provider and do not deviate from the plan of care. Also, you will have at least three health care providers and numerous appointments so try to consolidate when you can. An example of this is, if you are going to receive radiation treatments, try to have your bone density test CAT scan and consultation on the same day.”
Braum added, “Find someone who has gone through what you are going through, possibly a friend. You are going to want to talk to someone who has traveled your path. Reach out to that person when you feel down. It is very comforting to speak to a survivor.”
Braum insists that finding a support system is vital while undergoing breast cancer treatment. Braum said the positivity that Chism provided was invaluable to her. Chism said she feels it is an honor to be a part of her breast cancer patients’ journeys.
“Breast patients, whether they are facing a diagnosis or have a new breast concern, are very special to me,” said Chism. “There is a unique vulnerability that patients with breast concerns share. Whether caring for them involves simply ruling out a cancer concern, educating them about breast density or giving them the results of a breast biopsy, caring for these patients involves a sense of sensitivity, compassion and empathy. “
Chism said she takes her job of sharing diagnoses with her patients very seriously.
“Caring for breast patients is a privilege,” Chism said. “It is a privilege to share with patients very difficult news and a very intimate experience. A patient will never forget who tells them they have breast cancer, and they will never forget how they were told. It is also a privilege to care for their quality of life during and after treatment. Helping women have quality of life or restore their health is the most rewarding work I can imagine. It is challenging, but I cannot imagine doing anything else. “
The bond Braum and Chism have developed is something both will cherish for years to come. “The care I provide has become my life’s work,” said Chism. “It has taken me years to develop this expertise and I feel it is an honor and a privilege to do this work. My mentor once said to me, ‘where you begin may not be where you end up’. I had no idea this work would become my journey, but I could not be more thankful. My heart is full. ”
For more information on breast cancer, visit:
Braum’s story is just one example of the many lives saved by NPs. Check out this video entitled “Lifesaving Care”