Surviving and Thriving

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A breast oncologist treated the patient, not just the cancer. 

Cortney Kaiserman Bridges was in the prime of her life when her world came to a screeching halt. While doing a monthly breast self-exam, she felt a lump. She went to her gynecologist to have it checked and followed up with a mammogram screening. She noted the lump on the admission forms. This alarmed the radiologist, who performed a diagnostic mammogram, which identified a tumor.

From left, Cortney Kaiserman Bridges with her husband, Clint Bridges.

Concerned it could be cancerous, the radiologist recommended an ultrasound and biopsy. A few days later, Bridges got a call that would forever change her life. She had triple-negative breast cancer.

Like any woman facing this aggressive form of breast cancer, Bridges was terrified. Not just about the diagnosis, but about the traditional treatment plan as well. A prior illness had resulted in debilitating neuropathy, and Bridges feared the side effects of chemotherapy could potentially exacerbate her condition. That was a risk she was not willing to take, and she refused treatment.

But her physician, Carmen Calfa, M.D., a breast medical oncologist at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center — a part of UHealth - the University of Miami Health System — was not willing to take ‘no’ for an answer.

“Dr. Calfa was determined to save my life,” Bridges said. “She truly listened to me and acknowledged all of my fears and concerns. Because of her knowledge, training, and positive attitude, I knew I could trust her.”

Another Treatment Plan

Bridges put her faith in Dr. Calfa, who assured her that there was another effective treatment plan available.

“As a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, Sylvester is able to offer options that others can’t,” said Dr. Calfa, who is also medical co-director for the cancer survivorship program at Sylvester. “We work together as a multidisciplinary team to tailor the treatment plan to the patient and their individual needs.”

Dr. Calfa went on to say that what makes Sylvester special is that it embraces the patient as a whole.

Carmen Calfa, M.D.

“Their risk factors and goals create unique situations,” she said. “We evaluate any comorbidities, such as obesity or diabetes, which may require specialized care. In Cortney’s case that meant curing her breast cancer while being mindful of any toxicity that could impact her survivorship.”

Survivorship is an integral part of all cancer treatment plans at Sylvester. Because of Bridges’ age and lack of family history, plus the aggressive form of breast cancer she had, Dr. Calfa was concerned she could carry the BRCA gene mutation. Genetic testing revealed Bridges was BRCA-positive.

“This puts her at increased risk for other cancers,” Dr. Calfa explained. “Fortunately, we discovered this early and have been able to be proactive and take precautions. Her personalized treatment plan includes surveillance, as well as follow-up care.”

Celebrating a Milestone

Bridges is now just months away from celebrating a major milestone — five years of being cancer-free. There was a time when she thought she would never live to see this day.

“I am very blessed to have found Dr. Calfa. She provided the love and support that I desperately needed during one of the darkest times of my life,” Bridges said. “Not a moment goes by that I do not thank her for allowing me to live this beautiful life today. I am forever grateful.”

As an expression of gratitude, Bridges is writing a letter of appreciation to her physician as part of UM’s Honor Your Doctor campaign. Each year, Honor Your Doctor provides an opportunity for patients, and their families, to let Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, UHealth, and the Miller School of Medicine physicians know just how much they are appreciated as we approach National Doctors’ Day, on March 30.

Visit Honoryourdoc.com to learn more or to leave a note of appreciation.

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