Karol Behne’s Breast Cancer Experience: Turning a Negative into a Positive


Breast cancer survivor Karol Behne ringing the bell celebrating the conclusion of her chemotherapy treatments with Radiation Therapists Jennifer Pakeltis, Winston Phillips and Megan Hopkins.

Breast cancer survivor Karol Behne ringing the bell celebrating the conclusion of her chemotherapy treatments with Radiation Therapists Jennifer Pakeltis, Winston Phillips and Megan Hopkins. Photo by Nesossi Studios.

COVER STORY

Thanks to the physicians and staff at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, Karol Behne is a cancer survivor who can keep working on her “bucket list.”

In November 2014, the recently retired Behne had just finished crossing off the first item on her list when she received word that a recent mammogram required further testing.  She was referred to Dr. Sandra Templeton, a board certified breast surgeon at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, and her battle against breast cancer began.

Behne had long been a believer in annual mammograms because of her family history of breast cancer. Her mother is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 1974 at the age of 44. Her treatment consisted of a radical mastectomy – there was no chemotherapy or reconstructive surgery. Today, physicians have a wide range of tools at their disposal.  And Behne, fortunately, had the technological resources, as well as a compassionate, knowledgeable staff at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital’s Cancer Center on her side.

As a young retiree – she retired from Lamar Consolidated ISD in July 2014 to care for her elderly mother – Behne had a bucket list of activities she wished to achieve. The initial item on that list was giving her first devotional to the ladies’ Bible study at her church, with a focus on not letting obstacles in your life define you.

“I was very nervous about giving the devotion,” Behne recalled. “Right before Bible study started, I got a phone call from my doctor’s office. I thought, ‘I can’t be distracted by this; I need to focus.’

After the opening devotional, Behne listened to the message from her doctor’s office saying the mammogram showed microcalcifications, and she was being referred to Templeton for further testing. She immediately shared the news with her small study group and was so happy that she could immediately be placed on a prayer list.

When Behne picked up the results of her mammogram to take them to her appointment with Dr. Templeton, she looked at her report. Despite the medical terms she didn’t understand, she zeroed in on some key words: “microcalcifications of the breast most likely malignant.”

“It took my breath away,” she said.  “I couldn’t call my husband fast enough to tell him what I had read.”  The words literally took Behne’s breath away. Her husband Henry did his best to calm her fears over the phone.

Behne’s mother was able to go with her to the initial appointment as support and as a second pair of ears. Her husband and mother remained her strong support system throughout her treatment.

A Life Changing Diagnosis

Dr. Sandra Templeton

Dr. Sandra Templeton

At the doctor’s office, Behne noticed the images of different stages of breast cancer and asked, “What stage am I?  Dr. Templeton said I was stage 0, and I thought, okay this is doable.” However, once Behne told her about a tender lump under her arm – which she had just discovered over the weekend – everything changed.

Dr. Templeton performed an ultrasound in her office and was concerned with her findings. She immediately referred Behne to the Houston Methodist Breast Care Center at Sugar Land for a mammogram, an ultrasound of both breast and lymph nodes, and ordered biopsies of both areas.

“They have state-of-the-art technology but more importantly, specialized radiologists who only image and diagnose breast diseases,” said Templeton. “This combination, as well as the team approach to treatment all in one place, make Houston Methodist Sugar Land the ideal facility to receive breast health care.”

“My initial appointment was on Monday, December 1st and biopsies were taken on Tuesday with an appointment scheduled on Friday to discuss test results. When I received a call Thursday evening from Dr. Templeton to tell me that the biopsy of the breast was malignant and that I had two malignant lymph nodes, I was shocked.

“Dr. Templeton wanted me to have this information before I came in the next day so I could formulate any questions. I was so appreciative of this,” Behne said. “The first thing you do is cry.”

Dr. Templeton explained the next day that she also needed additional testing to make sure the cancer had not metastasized or spread. Thankfully, the testing revealed that the cancer had not spread to other parts of her body.

Behne was diagnosed with right breast invasive ductal carcinoma. ER-positive, PR-positive and Her2-negative. Stage: T2N1. Her treatment plan would consist of six months of chemotherapy, then surgery and six weeks of radiation. Her first thought was, “This is going to be a long year.”

Team Approach to Care

Karol and Henry Behne. Photo by Nesossi Studios.

Karol and Henry Behne.
Photo by Nesossi Studios.

It is not just technology and training that sets the Houston Methodist Sugar Land Oncology Program apart.  It’s the team approach employed by the program’s physicians and staff, who work together to ensure that every patient is receiving the best possible care and treatment in a comforting, compassionate manner.

Dr. Jorge Darcourt, board certified in hematology and oncology and medical director of the Infusion Center, began Behne’s chemo treatment on December 22, 2014. “I didn’t want it to start that fast,” said Behne. “My son is in the Air Force, and he was about to be deployed to Iraq. And it was Christmas! However, I trusted Dr. Darcourt’s expertise. He explained what to expect with the chemotherapy and made sure all of my questions were answered. He is an amazing doctor. I never felt that he didn’t have my best interest at heart. Each time I met with him, all my questions – emotional and physical – were answered. I never felt like I was in the dark during this stage of my treatment.”

200-jorge

Dr. Jorge Darcourt

By that spring, Behne was ready to celebrate with her team at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital’s Cancer Center. “On May 26, 2015, I was able to joyfully ring the bell in the Infusion Center celebrating the end of my chemotherapy treatments. My husband and my mother were there with me to celebrate this huge accomplishment.”

Following chemotherapy, Templeton performed Behne’s breast surgery as the next part of her treatment plan. Dr. Clive Shkedy, radiation oncologist and medical director of Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital’s Cancer Center, played a pivotal role in Behne’s recovery by helping her with her treatment decision and radiation therapy. He made sure Behne felt like more than just another case.

“Providing a supportive, nurturing environment and making patients feel at home is very important to their well-being and eases the stress of going through cancer treatment,” Dr. Shkedy said. “Behne received her treatment on our new TrueBeam radiation system.” Considered the gold standard in radiation treatment, TrueBeam advances cancer treatments by allowing doctors to deliver powerful cancer treatments with pinpoint, 4D precision.

Dr. Clive Shkedy

Dr. Clive Shkedy

“Everyone there was fabulous,” Behne said of her experience at the Houston Methodist Sugar Land Cancer Center. “Over the six-week span, I really built a relationship with the radiation therapists. They treated me like family and gave me so much more than radiation therapy – they helped me maintain a positive attitude during this difficult time.”

On August 26, 2015, Behne completed her treatment and rang the bell with her radiation care team and husband by her side. Behne is a breast cancer survivor and reminds everyone of the importance of their yearly mammogram. The American Cancer Society guidelines for early detection of breast cancer consist of a combination of regular clinical breast examinations for women beginning in their 20s and an annual mammography beginning at age 40.

Supporting Breast Cancer Patients

150-ribbonBehne’s husband Henry is a professional dragboat racer with the Southern Dragboat Association and Lucas Dragboat Series. When the Behnes received the breast cancer diagnosis, Henry quickly turned to their Knotty Racing team Facebook page for prayers of healing. Within an hour, there were 200 plus boating families responding to this call for prayer.

Henry Behne racing in Lucky Draw 777, which features a pink ribbon.

Henry Behne racing in Lucky Draw 777, which features a pink ribbon.

This amount of support sparked an idea for Henry to turn a negative into a positive by using his passion of boat racing to raise money for people with breast cancer. He went before the director and board of the Southern Dragboat Association and gained their support. As a result, this year 25 percent of gate prices at all boat races will be given to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

The Behnes had T-shirts made and gave them to their team of doctors – Dr. Sandra Templeton, Dr. Jorge Darcourt and Dr. Clive Shkedy. They also had a pink ribbon painted on their boat and trailer to raise awareness of breast cancer.  “We’ve definitely turned something negative into something positive,” Henry said.


Low-Dose Radiation 3D Mammograms Now Offered at the Houston Methodist – Sugar Land Hospital —Breast Care Center

150-methodistThe Houston Methodist Breast Care Center at Sugar Land is excited to offer the latest in breast cancer screening advances, called low-dose radiation tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography. Utilizing advanced breast tomosynthesis technology improves the ability to detect breast cancer at the earliest stages while using the lowest radiation exposure available in the market.

Tomosynthesis provides clearer images and a more accurate screening than traditional mammograms, especially in women who have dense breast tissue. Radiologists pull images from varying perspectives to examine anything suspicious, reducing callbacks for further imaging.

The Genius™ 3D mammogram at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital requires no additional compression and takes just a few seconds longer than a traditional 2D mammogram. The low-dose 3D mammogram is the only breast tomosynthesis system approved by the FDA as clinically superior to conventional mammography.

Houston Methodist Breast Care Center at Sugar Land is committed to the fight against breast cancer. In offering 3D mammograms, the Breast Care Center provides the latest and most effective imaging tools for breast cancer screening.

“We are thrilled to offer tomosynthesis to our patients,” said Stephen W. Phillips, M.D., Medical Director of the Houston Methodist Breast Care Center at Sugar Land. “This new technology aids in early detection and strengthens the Breast Care Center’s fight against breast cancer.”

The Breast Care Center offers the most comprehensive services in the Fort Bend area, including all-digital mammography, molecular breast imaging, breast ultrasound, breast MRI, ultrasound biopsies, stereotactic biopsies and MRI-guided biopsies, all under one roof.  If cancer is detected, the center provides access to clinical trials and the most advanced treatments available, such as chemotherapy, hormone, drug and radiation therapy.  Innovative surgical techniques and breast reconstruction surgeries are also available.

Breast Care Center manager and patient navigator Jamie Prinster said, “We are leading the fight against breast cancer. In addition to the state-of-the-art equipment, anyone who comes to Houston Methodist Breast Care Center at Sugar Land can expect to be treated as family. Our highly trained and dedicated team is devoted to walking our patients through each step in their care. Should our patients receive a life changing diagnosis, we have a certified navigation team in place to provide support and education to ensure that we are continuing to provide the highest level of care from diagnosis to survival.”

For more information about this important breast health exam, contact Jamie Prinster, Breast Care Center manager and patient navigator, at 281.275.0586.  To schedule a mammogram at Houston Methodist Breast Care Center at Sugar Land, visit houstonmethodist.org/online-scheduling or call 281.242.PINK (7465).