Walking in her shoes
Mammography technologists’ breast cancer experiences draw them closer to patients
For 25 years, Nancy Sheldon has comforted and reassured patients receiving screening and diagnostic mammograms at Baptist Health. She follows some throughout their journeys and now sees daughters of patients she’s helped over the years.
“You see the same people every year so you develop a relationship,” said Sheldon, who works at the Hill Breast Center at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center. “I feel like this is a ministry. I love helping people. I can be an encouragement and let them know we will take good care of them.”
Her biggest message is “Pray and don’t give up hope.”
She speaks from experience. In August, it will be 18 years since she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Sheldon had already been on the job for seven years in 1999 when she found a lump during a breast self-exam. She said she never anticipated being on the other side.
When she was 41 and the mom of a 10-year-old son, a needle-biopsy confirmed her worst fears: She had triple negative breast cancer.
“When they called to tell me my results, I fell to my knees and said, ‘God, don’t let me die,’” Sheldon recalled. “I felt like a hypocrite for telling these patients for years to hang in there and not be discouraged. But when you hear the word “cancer,” that is where your mind goes.”
She had a lumpectomy at Baptist Jacksonville, had 12 lymph nodes removed and went through chemotherapy and radiation. In addition to annual mammograms, she had PET scans at the five and 10-year-marks, routine blood work and two bone scans.
“I always thought I could sympathize with the patients, but now I could empathize. I understood the fear,” Sheldon said. “I could now walk in their shoes.“
Susie Holt was just 6 months old when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Josefina Holt managed her slow-growing cancer for more than two decades. After being in remission for 10 years, Josephina’s breast cancer came back and spread. She passed away in 2013 when Susie Holt was 21. Her mom’s journey is what inspired her to become a mammography technologist.
“I feel I’m able to help people who have been in situations like my mom,” Holt said. “It’s very personal to me. I’m very passionate about it.”
While getting her associate’s degree in radiologic sciences from Florida State College at Jacksonville, Holt shadowed team members at the Hill Breast Center.
“I was in love the moment I came in here,” said Holt, who started working at Baptist in August 2015.
“The other techs and doctors I work with have a lot of experience and are very skilled and passionate about what they do.”
She enjoys helping patients and feels she’s able to be their voice when relaying their history to the radiologist reading the mammograms.
Because of her mom’s cancer, Holt is being watched closely. She had her first mammogram last year; an MRI in September revealed a mass. A biopsy showed it was a non-cancerous tumor. She’s also been through genetic testing at the Hill Breast Center and was negative for any gene.
Her own experience gives her further knowledge to share with patients.
“I’ve met a lot of women who are in the same boat, whose mom or sister had breast cancer,” she said. “I really encourage women to come in for their mammogram every single year and to do their self-exams.”
Breast cancer rates are higher in Northeast Florida than the overall state.
Since early detection is an important factor in successful breast cancer treatment, Baptist Health is expanding its mammography capacity with the addition of new imaging machines and expanded mammography hours at several locations, so women who need appointments can be seen as quickly as the same or next day.
Since December 2016, more than 150 appointment slots per week throughout the health system have been added.
To schedule a mammogram, call 904.202.2222 or go to baptistjax.com/mammo
Why work in breast health?
More than 100 team members work in breast health. A few of them shared what they love about their jobs.
Beth-Ann Lesnikoski, MD
Breast Program director
A breast surgeon for 20 years, Dr. Lesnikoski joined Baptist MD Anderson in July.
“With breast surgery, you get to know people and take them from their darkest days to some of their brightest days,” she said. “I love seeing people from what is often the worst period of their lives: diagnosis, through treatment and onto survivorship, when patients often build richer lives than they’ve ever had before.”
Jessie Bourquin, RN
Oncology patient navigator
“This can be a very scary time for patients and it’s helpful for them to have someone they can reach out to for questions. I love this role because it gives me the opportunity to make a difference, to help make the unknown less scary and confusing.”
Tina Nichols, RDMS
Diagnostic medical sonographer
Her mother, grandmother and great grandmother had breast cancer.
“Every woman I take care of has a mother, sister or a daughter who is depending on me to give this woman the absolute best care. That is why I do what I do and why I love it.”
Tiffani Perez, ARRT, RDMS
“I was trained in the U.S. Air Force as a radiologic technologist and one day my colonel came to me and said, ‘You are the only registered technologist, so you will perform mammograms.’ I said OK and fell in love. I love helping people and putting a smile on their face.”
Cynthia Anderson, MD
“I love caring for patients through their journey from a starting point that can be filled with fear to a place of knowledge, choices and empowerment. Patients deserve high quality imaging that can guide them and their care providers to the best path for their care.”
Trishna Patel, MD
Medical director of Breast Imaging
“I was drawn to the field of breast imaging because it combined my interest in imaging technology with patient interaction. I love providing care to other women. I have the privilege of helping women at an unfortunate time when they find out that they have breast cancer and also providing reassurance to many patients that they don’t have breast cancer.”