Virginia Palmer is thankful. She lives each day with deep gratitude that only comes from being pushed to the edge and not giving up. “I am a person of deep faith in God, and my family is the source of my strength,” Palmer said.
Over the past 20 months, the 51-year-old mother of two learned just how strong she really was. On April 15, 2015, Virginia was diagnosed with stage 2A invasive ductal carcinoma. IDC is the most common type of breast cancer and makes up about 80 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. “I have fibrocystic breasts, and at the time I had a lump in both my left and right breasts. The one on my left went away, but the one on my right stayed,” she said.
After a mammogram, sonogram and biopsy confirmed the worst, Virginia began chemotherapy that May. “I underwent 16 rounds of chemo, lost all of my hair and all of my strength,” Palmer said. “My family and friends would try to encourage me by telling me sickly is the new sexy.”
Laila Samiian, MD, a surgical oncologist at UF Health Jacksonville, performed a lumpectomy in October 2015. Shortly afterwards, Virginia began radiation treatments at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. Doctors declared Virginia cancer-free after her lumpectomy, but it wasn’t until her six-month mammogram appointment that she believed them.
“You have faith, but you just don’t know,” Palmer said. “When you see there is nothing there with your own eyes, then you can finally breathe.”
Virginia’s thick hair is slowly growing back, and her scars are starting to fade. But she said the impact made by the UF Health Breast Center – Jacksonville team will never be forgotten. “They are an excellent staff who took very good care of me and my husband,” Palmer said. “Whether I was having my blood drawn or receiving treatment at the infusion center, their commitment to compassionate care was great.”
Medical oncologist Lara Zuberi, MD, radiation oncologist Michael Rutenberg, MD, PhD, and Samiian worked as a team to help Virginia decide the best course of action. Throughout the process, the breast health team provided information and support, as well as a second opinion service when reviewing her original pathology slides and mammography films.
“This gave me more confidence as a patient,” Palmer said. “It is comforting to know that not one, but three specialists: your oncologist, breast surgeon and radiation oncologist are all working together for you.”
Throughout her treatment, Virginia continued to work part time as a patient relations representative at UF Health North. “This experience makes me better at my job because I know how difficult it can be for our patients,” Palmer said. “I want them to know if they get this diagnosis, it’s time to fight for your life. I also want people to know how important it is to get a mammogram.”
Virginia takes letrozole daily and visits the UF Health Breast Center every four-to-six months. She can now do all of the things she loves to do like spend time with her family and go to the beach. “I used to only leave the house to see a doctor or to have chemo or radiation treatments,” Palmer said. “So this is a significant improvement.”
It’s a big reason why Virginia has such a strong appreciation for God, her family and the supportive team of experts at the UF Health Breast Center for the roles they all serve in her life.
Associate Program Director, Hematology Oncology Fellowship