Why it matters who reads your mammogram
In the world of cancer, benign means non-cancerous. In a non-medical context, however, benign also means kind, gentle, caring and compassionate. When Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center breast surgeon Jessica Young, MD, described a phyllodes tumor in Hildi Carrero’s right breast as “rare and benign,” Hildi laughingly replied “Rare and benign…just like me!”
Hildi uses those same words to describe her entire experience at Roswell Park. “Starting with my first phone call to Roswell Park, caring and compassionate is the kind of treatment I got from everyone there, and based on my experience with other facilities, that kind of treatment is indeed rare,” Hildi says. “That kind of empathy – you can’t teach that. It’s clearly the culture at Roswell Park.”
Mammograms save lives
When Hildi, then age 50, first moved to Buffalo from Florida in 2017, she made time to have a mammogram, and to her knowledge, the results were normal. Then, as a single working mother, “life got busy, and I let the mammograms go by the wayside for a few years. While on personal time off in April 2021, I finally made time for another mammogram at the same facility as before.
“The mammogram was read while I sat in the waiting room, and then, without any explanation, I was told I also needed a sonogram. I waited again while they read the results, and I was then asked to follow a nurse into a private room. Of course, by then, I was terrified. And I’ll never forget the exact words the nurse said to me – and her lack of empathy when she said them: ‘You have a mass in your breast, and you should contact a cancer doctor.’”
Hildi recalls feeling lost and afraid. “I asked the nurse who I should call, and she gave me a doctor’s business card. After I left several voicemail messages during the day at that doctor’s office, a person finally answered my phone call at the end of the day, and rudely told me that unless I had the films or digital images of my mammogram and sonogram, they couldn’t make an appointment for me. She said they could request the films but wouldn't be able to see me for at least three weeks. Then I checked out the reviews for that doctor’s office and they were not good.”
The next day, Hildi searched online for “best breast cancer doctors and hospitals in Western New York." It didn’t take long before she found a video of Dr. Young on YouTube and Roswell Park’s website. “One of the things Dr. Young said was that she works to educate each patient so they can make informed choices and be comfortable with their care, and she felt it was important to get to know her patients,” Hildi recalls. “I immediately felt reassured by Dr. Young’s manner, expertise and reviews, and thought, ‘This is the person I want to be my doctor.’”
That same day, Hildi called 1-800-ROSWELL. “A calm, polite young man answered the phone. He patiently listened while I explained my situation. I told him I’d like an appointment with Dr. Young, and he said to me, ‘You called the right place.’ Within minutes, he transferred me to Sarah, the scheduler for Dr. Young’s office. After introducing herself, Sarah asked me how I was doing. Another good sign: empathy, right from the start,” Hildi says. “Sarah then explained every step of the process to me. She told me that they would order the images from my mammograms and sonogram and, if necessary, would even send a courier to pick them up within 24 hours. She gave me her number and told me to feel free to call her if I had any questions at any time.”
Hildi relates other critical information she learned: Once Roswell Park received her breast images, a team of several doctors, including Marie Quinn, MD, MPH, former Director of Breast Imaging, Dr. Young, and two pathologists would analyze her images within 48 hours. She received a call the next day confirming the images were received. “Two days later, Sarah called and told me that Dr. Quinn would like to meet with me and perform a biopsy. Every step was explained to me with care, empathy and follow-through,” Hildi recalls.
Comparing your mammogram to previous images is important
At the appointment, Dr. Quinn explained that Hildi’s mammogram from three years ago showed that the tumor had been present but was very small, and that it had grown since then. “No one at the previous facility ever mentioned, or possibly even noticed, that tumor from the first mammogram!” she says. Dr. Quinn then obtained a biopsy of the suspicious mass in Hildi’s breast. “She was amazing. Professional, yet warm and personable. She talked me through the procedure, explained the next steps, and even made me laugh at one point, all of which helped to ease my stress,” Hildi says.
It took only two days to have the biopsy analyzed and an appointment set up with Dr. Young. “I’ll never forget that day,” Hildi says. “I went there mentally ready for either good or bad results, I just wanted Dr. Young to remove whatever was in there.” What was in there was a phyllodes tumor – a tumor that develops from cells in the connective tissue, or stroma, of the breast, rather than inside the milk ducts or glands. While these can sometimes be malignant, Dr. Young described Hildi’s tumor using those wonderful words: rare and benign.
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Dr. Young explained that phyllodes tumors tend to grow quickly and because they can become malignant, and it was best to have it removed with a lumpectomy, and she carefully explained the lumpectomy procedure. “Then she asked if I had any questions,” says Hildi. “I’d made a list, and one of the most important questions was asking Dr. Young if she would send a quick message to my 13-year-old son, who’d heard me making appointments on the phone for two weeks and was frightened, to say the least,” Hildi says. “And then, right there in the office, we did a FaceTime call to Lucci. Dr. Young’s message was so inspiring. She said, ‘Hi Lucci. I am Dr. Young, we’re going to take care of your mom; don’t be worried. She is in good hands, and she will be okay.’ That changed his outlook and gave him hope, and when I got home that day, he greeted me with the biggest hug and said ‘You have the best doctor, mom, and I trust her. That’s all I needed to hear from my son!”
Three weeks later, Dr. Young performed a successful lumpectomy. “There was a lot of meaning in that day, too,” Hildi remembers. “I was supposed to start a new job at the beginning of June, so Sarah and Dr. Young worked to get my procedure scheduled a few days earlier, so I could start my new job without delay. While I was in the surgery waiting room, I got a phone call from that first doctor’s office I’d called, telling me they could now schedule me for an appointment. Too late! I was already weeks ahead in my treatment, and with the best medical team.
“That day also happened to be the anniversary of my mother’s death from cancer 33 years ago. But thanks to the entire Roswell Park team, and especially the expertise of Dr. Quinn in reading my films, the pathologists who interpreted my biopsy tissue, and the surgical skill of Dr. Young, I knew I was going to live and be there for my children.”
Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.