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A No Brainer

Image of Pat Howland

Pat Howland is no stranger to mammograms. For three years leading up to her diagnosis she’s had one every six months as a precautionary measure for a spot in her breast that had been previously detected. However, it was between the regularly scheduled mammograms when she noticed a new lump in her left breast. While a diagnostic mammogram revealed the initial lump was not cancerous, a second lump was detected which turned out to be invasive ductal carcinoma–a common form of breast cancer which occurs in the lining of the milk ducts.

After receiving the news, the Chicago resident didn’t waste any time scheduling an appointment with a surgeon near her hometown to learn more about available treatment options.

“My surgeon discussed what I assumed was standard treatment for breast cancer–surgery and four to six weeks of radiation,” said Pat. “It wasn’t until I was talking to my neighbor and she recommended a treatment available at Spectrum Health Lakeland that I realized I had other choices.”

Interested in learning more, Pat reached out to oncology nurse navigator, Shelley Wilkinson, RN, CBCN, at the Marie Yeager Cancer Center in St. Joseph.

“Shelley was my angel,” said Pat. “The only thing required of me from the time I met Shelley to the end of my treatment, was to show up when and where she told me.

She followed my care and provided me with things I didn’t even know I needed. I still can’t believe how wonderful I was treated.”

During her initial meeting with radiation oncologist, Benjamin Gielda, MD, Pat learned about intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT)–a treatment for breast cancer that delivers radiation at the time of surgery, following tumor removal. For many women this eliminates the need for four to six weeks of follow up radiation after surgery.

“No one in Chicago even mentioned IORT to me,” said Pat. “After explaining how the procedure worked, Dr. Gielda suggested I go home and think about it. I told him I didn’t need to–as far as I was concerned it was a no brainer for me.”

On the day of surgery, Pat returned to Spectrum Health Lakeland–an hour and 45-minute drive she says was worth every mile. While in the operating room, general surgeon, Dennis Rasbach, MD, performed lumpectomy surgery to remove the cancerous cells in Pat’s breast. During the procedure he also discovered a second cancerous lump which was previously undetected and removed it at the same time. Once the tumors were removed, Dr. Rasbach, together with Dr. Gielda, delivered a dose of radiation directly to the tumor bed.

“When compared to having my rotator cuff repaired, breast cancer was a walk in the park,” said Pat. “I felt very little discomfort and was strangely at peace throughout the entire experience.” Since her surgery, Pat continues to follow up regularly with an oncologist in Chicago. Although Pat said she hopes she’ll never have to undergo breast cancer again, she wouldn’t hesitate to return to Spectrum Health Lakeland for care. 

“Everyone I came into contact with at Lakeland treated me with the utmost care and concern,” she said. “When faced with this kind of diagnosis, it is wonderful to know there is a place you can go for treatment and know with certainty they are not going to drop the ball.”

For more information about IORT and to read stories from other women on why they chose this therapy, visit


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