When Ellen Collins picked up the phone on a Saturday afternoon in January 2010, her mind was racing. Just the week before, she had been diagnosed with stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer. With a husband, two young children, and a busy career in national sales at Vail Resorts, Collins knew that she needed the best care possible.
Eric Winer, MD, director of the Breast Oncology Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), was on the other end of the phone. He had received a page from Collins' mother that morning. "I immediately launched into my diagnosis – I was hysterical," Collins says. "The first thing he said was: ‘Slow down, breathe. Tell me about you – do you have kids, what do you like to do in your spare time?' That showed me that they really care about you as a person at Dana-Farber, that I wouldn't be just a number."
Winer also asked her to book a ticket to Boston – he could see her at 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday, immediately after the holiday weekend. By Thursday, Collins had a treatment plan, was enrolled in a clinical trial, and had met with her surgeon, Mehra Golshan, MD, director of breast surgical services at DF/BWCC.
"It really felt like I had a team and that everyone was communicating with each other," Collins says. "I had appointments with different specialists but I didn't have to fill them in every time I saw them. They were very much in tune and aligned with the plan and kept each other informed."
Collins' treatment plan included six months of chemotherapy, and surgery. From the beginning, Collins knew she wanted reconstructive surgery. Depending on age and overall health, women can opt for implants or a flap procedure, which uses the patients' own body tissue to reshape the breast. Collins chose implants because of the shorter recovery time.
During her visits to Dana-Farber, Collins' care team got to know her husband, children, and parents. "They were open to answering questions from the entire family," she says.
After reconstructive surgery, Collins had a few sessions of physical therapy and wasn't able to lift objects heavier than a gallon of milk. She took many walks, and eventually, went back to the gym. She returned to her job that fall and says that she is now working at one of her highest levels ever.
"This experience gives you a new perspective on life," she says. "Things are clearer, especially your priorities. My family is most important."
Right before her surgery, Golshan told her that he would meet her at the top of Vail Mountain when she had recovered. He kept his promise, and in March 2013, he and his family met Collins in Vail.
Find out more about how we care for individuals with breast cancer at the Susan F. Smith Center for Women's Cancers Breast Oncology Program.
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