Susi Rodriguez Shapiro’s advice to future patients is to find a team you can trust. Today, she is one year cancer-free.

From one day to the next, Susi Rodriguez Shapiro, also known as Senorita Shapiro, developed an abnormally larger-sized lump in her armpit which initiated a visit to her primary care physician’s office. After her primary care physician told her it looked suspicious, Susi was then referred to the Margie Petersen Breast Center at Providence, Saint John’s Health Center. A Mammogram and biopsy confirmed the suspicious lump in her armpit was indeed cancerous, and Susi was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer amidst the height of the Pandemic.

Susi, a spiritual, faithful, and believer in God, turned to prayer for consolation and to the Margie Petersen Breast Center.

I felt like they were all part of Team Susi, and that was a really good feeling.

The Margie Petersen Breast Center

The Margie Petersen Breast Center (MPBC) is a comprehensive, one-stop shop for treating patients with breast conditions. According to Dr. Janie Grumley, program director, “many of our patients have told us we are the best-kept secret.” Why? Because MPBC is still unknown for their proficiency in treating the whole person and the disease. Each cancer is not a one-size-fits-all. Until one knows the genetic profile, healthy exercise and eating right are just general terms when discussing one’s health–it’s more complicated than that. For instance, before chemotherapy is prescribed, one has to undergo molecular testing so as not to undertreat or overtreat.

In Susi’s testimonial she professes, “After meeting everyone at the Margie Petersen Breast Center, I immediately felt comfort–that their skills and talents were going to help me, and that was a good feeling–I felt like they were all part of Team Susi.”

Susi met her team of experts individually, and consecutively, in a 3-hour session: Dr. Janie Grumley, professor of surgical oncology, Dr. Carol Nishikubo, adjunct professor of medical oncology, and Dr. Robert Wollman, assistant professor of radiation oncology.

Because Susi received her diagnosis during the pandemic, her husband was unable to partake in meeting with Susi’s team in person. Instead, Susi’s team phoned in her husband, recorded her entire meet-and-greet with each doctor, and placed it on a USB drive, which she received in the mail one week later as a reference.

I didn’t feel like I was just another number…they explained all my possibilities, and answered all my questions…

Susi had a treatment plan when she left. It included oncoplastic surgery to remove the cancer, followed by 8 sessions of chemotherapy, and 30 rounds of external beam radiation. Susi would later utilize multiple services offered at the MPBC; nutrition planning, writing, physical therapy, and mind and wellness workshops, to name a few, which assisted her journey post-treatment and re-adjusted her to her normal lifestyle.

I am a warrior.

Listen to Susi Rodriguez Shapiro in a candid testimonial elucidate the particulars of her cancer journey.

Oncoplastic Surgery for Breast Cancer Treatment

On January 20, 2021, Susi went into the operating room for oncoplastic lumpectomy surgery with Dr. Janie Grumley. “A 2016 analysis of studies on oncoplastic lumpectomy found there were high rates of overall survival (95%) and disease-free survival (90%) after an average of 4 years of follow-up. About 90% of people had clean margins and did not need further surgery for their cancer,” according to Susi was sent home the same day of her surgery when a PET scan came back with clean margins.

Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer Treatment

Five weeks after her surgery, Susi had eight rounds of chemotherapy, once every two weeks, for sixteen weeks with Dr. Carol Nishikubo. Chemotherapy stops cancer cells from dividing. This reduces the chance of recurrence, and with new advances in medical oncology, chemotherapy drugs don’t attack normal cells in the body like they once used to.

Susi knew hair loss was part of chemotherapy. Dr. Nishikubo explained to Susi when to expect her hair to fall out, and like “clockwork,” Susi woke up one morning with certain hair loss. As a way to take control, and exert her own agency in the process, Susi cut off all her hair instead of waiting for it to fall out. She uploaded a picture to Facebook and showed everyone her new look.

This is my new chemo-look, and now I keep it short.

External Beam Radiation for Breast Cancer Treatment

Radiation was the last phase of Susi’s treatment plan. She received thirty rounds, Monday through Friday, for six weeks under the care of Dr. Robert Wollman. “The machine goes right on you, and it zapped me. The two technicians were wonderful. They treated me with such dignity, and I will never forget them,” explains Susi in her testimonial.

External beam radiation uses machines to focus radioactive particles on the areas of the body that cancer has affected. It is a highly effective treatment to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA.

Margie Petersen Breast Center Services for Breast Cancer Patients

Susi utilized The Margie Petersen Breast Center’s services too.

The MPBC offers:

  • Physical Therapy
  • Mind and Wellness
  • Writing Workshops
  • Nutrition Planning

With the consultation of the nutritionist, Susi incorporated her Mexican cultural dietary options in with a new diet plan that worked for her. In the writing workshops, Susi was able to reflect on her mortality in a new way she said writing helped to unearth, “They are scars of a warrior; I am a warrior,” she reported writing in one workshop. Again, Susi who is already prayerful, found the mind and wellness classes helped her focus on the present moment. Susi said this process was, “faith over fear.”

“One thing all of us had in common was, we were all touched by cancer.”

Unbeknownst to Susi, she was already familiar with one of the faces of the Margie Petersen Breast Center, Dr. Crystal Fancher. Dr. Fancher was in her daughter’s girl scout troop and is a longtime family friend. “Is that my Crystal??,” Susi blurted to Rebecca Crane-Okada, Program Manager, Cancer Patient Support & Willow Sage Wellness, as she passed a brochure in the hallway on a follow-up visit. In an unexpected way, Susi felt the Margie Petersen Breast Center was home, and now it was more obvious than ever.

Advice for Breast Cancer Patients from Susi

When Susi met Dr. Grumley and the team, she immediately felt her nerves relax. She says, “you need to trust them because your life is truly in their hands.” She reports staying positive, regardless of the outcome, helped her get through her treatment. “It’s the trust factor. If you don’t have a team you can trust, you need to find one where you do.” Susi told Saint John’s Cancer Institute that she wants to be of service to others and to help them have a voice.

“At no point did I think, ‘this is it; I’m dying.’ I never felt my mortality when I was being treated by Team Susi.”

Hear Susi in Kim Douglas’s podcast regarding her treatment! Click Here.

About the Author

Eleanor Zeri