My doctor had been begging me for a long time to get a mammogram. I finally caved in and went. Turns out, I hadn’t had a mammogram in over eight years.
For years, Nan put her time and energy into representing clients in the courtroom, always brushing off her annual exam. Before she knew it, nearly a decade had passed since her last mammogram. It was only due to her primary care physician’s persistence that Nan decided to schedule an appointment.
“My doctor had been begging me for a long time to get a mammogram,” Nan reflected. “I finally caved in and went. Turns out, I hadn’t had a mammogram in over eight years.”
Even after her mammogram, Nan wasn’t worried.
“The staff said, ‘We’ll see you next year’ as I was heading out,” Nan recounted, noting she was in and out of the appointment in record time. “I left without a second thought. It was back to business as usual for me.”
But the next day, Nan received a phone call requesting she return for follow-up testing. At her appointment, Nan studied the black and white images captured from the mammogram on the screen, perplexed.
“On my X-ray, there were four tiny white spots lined up like little soldiers,” Nan said, describing the intensity of the situation. “I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at, but that’s when the physician explained, ‘This is your body telling us to look further.’”
Following a biopsy, Nan was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Treating Cancer STAT
When I first meet with a patient, I focus on helping them feel less scared and try to help them understand the whole process. It’s very rewarding to help patients feel better and get back to their normal lives.
Dr. Laura Pearson
Wellstar Breast Surgeon
Within days, Nan arrived at the Wellstar Specialty Teams and Treatment (STAT) Clinic, a specialized cancer center designed to help cancer patients start treatment as soon as possible. In most cases, the patient can go from diagnosis to treatment in as little as 15 days—instead of waiting weeks or months.
“When a patient comes into the STAT Clinic, they meet with a surgeon, medical oncologist, radiation oncologist and geneticist all in one appointment on the same day,” explained Dr. Mark McLaughlin, Wellstar radiation oncologist. “Because everyone is together at one time, it promotes better communication, cuts down on office visits and accelerates care right from the start. As a team, we then create the patient’s personalized treatment plan.”
Because her breast cancer was caught in its early stage, Nan was a candidate to receive intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) at Wellstar North Fulton Hospital. This groundbreaking procedure allows patients to receive just one concentrated dose of radiation during surgery.
For Nan, that would mean getting back to her normal routine faster rather than enduring weeks of time-consuming radiation treatments.
Even after setting a date for surgery and learning about the new treatment, Nan never felt afraid of the next steps. With Wellstar Breast Surgeon Dr. Laura Pearson’s calm reassurance, Nan knew she was in good hands.
“Dr. Pearson didn’t even have to say, ‘You’ll be okay.’ Her warm smile made me feel completely comfortable through the entire process,” Nan remembered.
“When I first meet with a patient, I focus on helping them feel less scared and try to help them understand the whole process,” Dr. Pearson explained. “It’s very rewarding to help patients feel better and get back to their normal lives.”
With the help of Wellstar’s speedy STAT Clinic, Nan had all her questions answered and a treatment plan in place.
Back in Action
Through speedy diagnostic services, referrals and treatment, Wellstar has helped both Before Nan knew it, the day of the surgery had arrived.
As discussed in her consultation, everything happened in one fell swoop. Side by side, Dr. Pearson removed Nan’s tumor and Dr. McLaughlin delivered radiation to prevent the cancer from returning.
“When it comes to breast cancer, IORT is unique because it requires close collaboration from the care team. I literally couldn’t do the procedure without Dr. McLaughlin, and he couldn’t do it without me,” Dr. Pearson said, explaining their dual roles in the surgical process. “From start to finish, we work together to ensure the operation is successful.”
From the technicians to the physicians, the entire Wellstar medical team supported Nan throughout her cancer journey.
“Everyone was always so positive and upbeat,” Nan said. “They’ll tell you the truth about your health situation, but in a way that makes you feel at ease.”
Just miles from her home, Nan received state-of-the-art cancer care at Wellstar North Fulton Hospital—and that made all the difference in her recovery.
“Wellstar North Fulton Hospital is in such a great location, between Alpharetta and Roswell,” Nan raved. “Since I was so close to home, it took a lot of the stress and pressure off me after surgery.”
Because of her quick treatment, Nan was even able to return home the same day as her surgical procedure. Only a short while later, it was time for Nan’s follow-up appointment to make sure cancer hadn’t returned.
“I still remember when the test results came back. Dr. Pearson told me, ‘You’re cancer-free. We got everything,’” Nan said, recalling the life-changing words.
“At Wellstar, it’s about more than just making patients feel better,” Dr. McLaughlin said, echoing Wellstar’s sentiments on patient care. “With treatments like IORT, patients can get back to their lives sooner and live life to the fullest.”
For Nan, that meant returning to the courtroom, confident and cancer-free.
“Wellstar renewed my lease on life,” Nan said. “I can never say enough about how well they treated me the entire time I was in their care.”
As for women who may be avoiding their annual check-up, Nan gave some parting words of advice to them.
“Go every year to get a mammogram. Don’t put it off. It could save your life.”
Cancer Care Close to Home
For years, Alpharetta attorney Nan Harman-Dempsey dealt with high-pressure situations in the courtroom. But after receiving the results from her biopsy, there was a new challenge on the docket: breast cancer.
Nan’s fiery personality wouldn’t let her back down from taking on this new opponent.
“I was never afraid even when I heard ‘cancer,’” Nan said of her diagnosis. “I’ve always been the type of person to look ahead and stay positive. With the Wellstar team behind me, I knew I was in good hands.”
For cancer patients like Nan, every minute counts. When Nan visited the Wellstar Specialty Teams and Treatment (STAT) Clinic, she started a treatment plan right away.
“We don’t want our patients or their families to be scared and waiting for answers,” added Dr. Laura Pearson, Wellstar breast surgeon. “That’s why we offer patients appointment times as soon as possible at the STAT Clinic.”
Even after treating thousands of patients with breast cancer, the Wellstar cancer team knows no person, situation or care plan is ever the same.
“Breast cancer treatment is very individualized,” explained Dr. Pearson. “Not one person gets the same treatment. Every patient in our cancer program has a care plan tailored to fit exactly what, where and how their cancer needs to be treated.”
This same principle would hold true for Nan, as she was selected to be the first Wellstar North Fulton Hospital patient to receive a new treatment called intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT).
First in Care
I would have never imagined some of these advancements to be possible. But they’re here—and they’re at Wellstar.
Because Nan’s breast cancer was caught in its early stage and hadn’t metastasized, the four experts at the STAT Clinic recommended IORT. In this innovative treatment, radiation is administered in a single dose at the time of the procedure.
Wellstar Radiation Oncologist Dr. Mark McLaughlin explained why IORT is so revolutionary for cancer patients.
“After surgery, breast cancer patients are often placed on a radiation regimen that lasts anywhere from four to six weeks. It’s a daily treatment at least five days a week that can be quite time-consuming,” Dr. McLaughlin said. “With IORT, we’re able to remove the tumor in its entirety and administer radiation just one time, in a single dose while the patient is under anesthesia in the operating room.”
Since the radiation from IORT is concentrated, it just focuses on the area affected by cancer and preserves healthy tissues. This procedure is particularly useful for cancers that may be difficult to remove during surgery or otherwise inoperable.
“Nan’s a busy lady. She had a lot of obligations and was also a full-time practicing attorney,” Dr. McLaughlin added. “It’s something she didn’t have to be encumbered by—she would finish her radiation the same day as her surgery before she even woke up from the anesthesia.”
“After we explained IORT, Nan was very enthusiastic and completely on board from the minute she heard about the new treatment,” Dr. Pearson said about Nan’s positive outlook on the surgery.
And, with Wellstar North Fulton Hospital close to home, Nan didn’t have to travel far for the most advanced healthcare.
“We’re living in such a great time for healthcare,” Nan raved about her experience at Wellstar North Fulton Hospital. “I would have never imagined some of these advancements to be possible. But they’re here—and they’re at Wellstar.”
A little over a week after visiting the STAT Clinic, the day of Nan’s surgery arrived in record time.
“When I was going into surgery, the technology blew me away,” Nan said, recalling the high-tech machine used for IORT. “Everyone in the hospital was excited for me to be the first to receive IORT and what it meant for other patients in the future.”
“Wellstar North Fulton Hospital is the only facility in the area with IORT. In fact, Wellstar is the only health system that has a portable IORT unit,” Dr. Pearson said, noting how they have since transported the machine to Kennestone, Paulding and back for IORT procedures. “That means we can bring the treatment to where the patients most need it.”
Wellstar continually invests in new technology, treatments and therapies to advance the possibilities for patient care in metro Atlanta and beyond.
“At Wellstar, we’re always bringing in new technology like IORT, CyberKnife robotic surgery and image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT),” Dr. McLaughlin said. “With these innovative technologies, we can give patients a wide variety of safe treatment options so they can receive the best care possible.”
Not just one physician can perform IORT on their own. It takes a dedicated care team made up of a breast surgeon and radiation oncologist to make the surgery a success. In Nan’s case, Dr. Pearson and Dr. McLaughlin went in together on the day of the surgery.
“We are literally side by side in the operating room, working together,” Dr. Pearson described her close collaboration with Dr. McLaughlin. “During the IORT procedure, I first operated on Nan to remove the tumor entirely. Then Dr. McLaughlin administered radiation from inside the breast tissue to ensure the cancer wouldn’t return.”
“After about two hours, Nan completed her surgery and treatment at the same time,” Dr. Pearson added with a smile.
But if not for the persistence of her primary care provider and the keen eyes of the mammogram technicians, Nan’s cancer might not have been caught so quickly.
That’s why Dr. Pearson urges all women to get screened for mammograms every year. “Because of the mammogram, we caught Nan’s breast cancer early—and the earlier we catch breast cancer, the better the outcome.”
Nan echoed Dr. Pearson’s sentiments on women’s health screenings. “Make the time to get a mammogram,” she said, urging women to get checked even if they have busy schedules.
“There’s nothing to fear about it. Getting that one little test saved my life.”
From the technicians to the physicians, the Wellstar care team was with Nan through it all. Now in remission, Nan was able to return to her law practice and get back to what she loves most: helping her friends and family in Alpharetta.
“Everyone at Wellstar is terrific,” Nan beamed. “They took care of me every step of the way. I can never thank them enough for everything they did for me.”