Avera Medical Minute: Avera's breast cancer team works together to provide patients the best outcome

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - A breast cancer diagnosis is something many don't want to hear. But, Avera doctors are working with women and each other to give patients the best possible outcome.

After Becky Brunick went to Avera for her annual mammogram, she got her diagnosis, invasive lobular carcinoma.

"It's a scary diagnosis; it really is," she said. "But, I feel like I was in the right place and everybody's taken really good care of me. And the whole procedure, the processes that I've gone through have been easier than I thought they would be."

After getting diagnosed Brunick met with a team of Avera doctors to go over her care plan.

"When I met with [Dr.] Merrigan, I had my mom and my husband with me," Brunick said. "And she basically said, 'this is not something that is going to end your life. It's just a bump in the road.' So, from the very beginning, it was very hopeful that they were going to take care of it."

Avera breast surgeons, plastic surgeons, and radiation oncologists work together to give patients the best possible outcome. Dr. Mark Shaskikant works as a plastic surgeon for Avera and says that the team is in constant contact with each other.

"In addition to that, in terms of technical, we're always working hand-in-hand with the breast surgeons in the operating room to get the best results for the patient," he said.

"In this case, Becky was a candidate for an intraoperative boost to the lumpectomy site," Dr. Tricia Merrigan, MD, FACS, said. "So, I removed the tumor, and with the help of the radiation doctors, they deliver a dose, what's called a boost to the lumpectomy site where the cancer is more likely to come back. And that then shortens the whole breast radiation that she had to undergo from six weeks to three weeks."

Another step the team focuses on is making it, so patients don't have to remember their cancer down the road.

"A lot of patients tell me I don't care about what my breast looks like I just want surgery and I want to live," Dr. Merrigan said. "And it's my job to talk with them about, once you're down the road and we've started to forget about some of the cancer treatment that you've gone through, and you're living your life on a daily basis the cosmetic part becomes much more important."

"It allows patients to stop thinking about compromises when they talk about their cancer care," Dr. Shaskikant said. "And it's better than ever a compromise; it's better than fixing what got repaired it's actually improving their life and improving their quality of life after their cancer surgery."

After one week of relaxing after Brunick's lumpectomy, she says she was fine. Now she has advice for women worried about cancer.

"Get your mammogram that's how this was caught was an annual mammogram," she said. "Don't be afraid of it, I mean yeah it's scary, but get it taken care of before it's too late."

According to Dr. Merrigan, Avera Breast Center's breast conservation rates are 70%, which is above the national average.

For more information, you can call 1-877-AT-AVERA or go to their website avera.org.