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When Nancy Wallace was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2021, she immediately thought the worst.
“I didn’t want to die,” said Nancy, who was 70 at the time and had been retired for 10 years after more than two decades working as an administrative assistant for the Beloit (Wis.) Police Department.
After a bumpy experience with another health system, Nancy couldn’t believe how comfortable she felt after meeting UW Health breast cancer surgeon Lacey Stelle, MD, who practices at UW Health SwedishAmerican Hospital in Rockford, Ill.
“It didn’t take long before I knew that Dr. Stelle would have my back and be my advocate,” Nancy said. “She got me in almost right away and then spent an hour with me going over my choices, answering all of my questions and explaining the pros and cons of each option. She also set up appointments with a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and genetics counselor. Her approach took away a lot of my fear because she was so reassuring.”
Nancy’s cancer, located on her right side, was diagnosed as an early stage tumor. She was given the choice of a partial mastectomy (lumpectomy) or a total mastectomy.
“Dr. (Benjamin) Durkee, the radiation oncologist, told me that based on the size and location of my tumor, my risk of recurrence would not be any higher with a partial mastectomy than a total mastectomy,” Nancy said. “I opted for the partial mastectomy and felt very good about the choice.”
Dr. Stelle removed the tumor, which was slightly less than a half-inch in diameter, in September 2021. Results of the surgery were excellent and Dr. Stelle assured Nancy that no cancer remained following the surgery.
As an extra layer of protection from recurrence, Nancy opted for radiation therapy that was given over a week’s time. She was very relieved not to need chemotherapy.
Reconstruction followed breast cancer surgery
Two weeks after the tumor was removed, Nancy returned for breast reconstruction surgery, performed by Dr. Katherine Shaum, a UW Health plastic surgeon based in Rockford. Known as oncoplastic surgery, or a breast reduction and lift, this operation improved Nancy’s breast symmetry while reducing the risk for any future complication.
Now 71, Nancy is incredibly grateful for the care she received from Dr. Stelle, Dr. Shaum and the entire UW Health breast cancer team in Rockford. It’s a team that offers a level of care that is unique in the region.
“Our philosophy is to treat patients like they were our own family members,” said Dr. Stelle. “We sit down with them, go over their options and create a personalized treatment plan with them. Our patients really like this approach.”
'They gave me back my life and my body'
Nancy could not be more grateful for her experience with Dr. Stelle and Dr. Shaum. She also appreciated the hospital’s “little touches” that mean so much to women who feel vulnerable because of their diagnosis.
“Everyone and everything at the Breast Center and Cancer Center at SwedishAmerican is so warm and welcoming,” Nancy said. “Even the gowns are warm and pink when you put them on. All of these things add up to a five-star rating in my book.
Above all, Nancy said, her team of caregivers gave her back something that is truly priceless.
“I feel God led me there and now I have more time with my husband and my grandchildren. UW Health and SwedishAmerican gave me back my life and my body,” she said.