From OHC, Specialists in the Treatment of Adult Cancers and Blood Disorders

August 16, 2022

On Friday, April 2, 2021, Michelle Siefke, a mother of four and a grandmother of three, had a slight adjustment in her normal work routine as an intervention specialist at Mercy McAuley High School. Her employer had arranged for a mobile mammography van to visit the school to provide mammograms to interested staff members. Michelle took advantage of the service. The following Monday, she received a call that the radiologist saw something abnormal on the images and recommended follow-up imaging. Additional imaging revealed breast cancer. Surrounded by loved ones and the support of her community, OHC medical team, and the generosity of the Karen Wellington Foundation (KWF), Michelle is winning her battle and celebrating along the way.

“There’s never a good time for a cancer diagnosis, but this was terrible timing for me,” said Michelle. “My daughter, Kylee, was getting married in five weeks. I didn’t know where to start, so I asked my principal at McAuley for a recommendation for a doctor. I knew that her daughter worked in the oncology field.” The conversation led her to OHC medical oncologist and hematologist Suzanne M. Partridge, MD, and Dr. Dianne Runk, a local breast surgeon. Dr. Runk performed a lumpectomy to remove a seven-millimeter mass from Michelle’s breast. She confirmed Michelle had stage one breast cancer. The following day, Michelle attended two of Kylee’s wedding showers.

Shortly afterward, she met Dr. Partridge who recommended oncotype testing on the mass and encouraged Michelle to discuss this decision with her family. An oncotype test analyzes a tumor sample to predict how likely it is that the cancer will return and whether chemotherapy and hormone therapy would benefit the patient. “Removing Michelle’s tumor gave her an 80 percent chance of survival,” noted Dr. Partridge. “I wanted her to be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to be more aggressive with therapy if she wasn’t satisfied with 80 percent.”

“Dr. Partridge was lovely,” said Michelle. “She left the oncotype testing choice up to me. She made me feel like she was a friend and that we were going to get through this. I discussed the testing with my family, and we were worried about the 80 percent survival rate. We wanted to be aggressive.”

The oncotype test revealed that Michelle would need radiation and chemotherapy. Dr. Partridge recommended beginning treatment following Kylee’s wedding, including radiation under the care of OHC radiation oncologist Matthew H. Bertke, MD. In the summer of 2021, Michelle began her first of four rounds of chemotherapy. “I had friends who had cancer about 15-20 years ago, so I thought I knew what to expect,” said Michelle. “For me, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but you’re sitting and chatting with others receiving chemo and it’s gut-wrenching to know that many of them have prolonged treatment.”

On the morning of July 8, 2021, Michelle woke up and half of her hair was on her pillowcase. More would fall out in the shower. “I was going out with my siblings for my sister’s birthday, so I instantly thought of my hat collection,” said Michelle.

Eventually, Michelle and her supportive best friend went to a hairdresser and shaved their heads. “There were days that I didn’t want to go out because I was bald. My hair was starting to grow back around Christmas, but I didn’t want people to take pictures of me.”

Kylee felt that her mother needed a day of pampering as a diversion from her cancer treatment and nominated her for a gift of FUN from KWF, an organization headquartered in Cincinnati that sends cancer patients and their families LIVING with cancer on special vacations, relaxing spa days, concerts, and other FUN-ONLY activities. Kent Wellington established KWF in 2007 after his wife, Karen, lost her battle with cancer. Karen had hoped to send one cancer patient a year on a vacation after she beat cancer. Celebrating its 15th year, KWF has given over 1,300 “Gifts of FUN” to cancer patients and their families.

In March of 2022, Michelle received a surprise e-mail notification that she was the recipient of a KWF experience. “The Foundation reached out asking what type of experience I was interested in,” said Michelle. “I didn’t think I deserved it as I felt it was a gift for others who were sicker than me.”

In July, the special gift of fun arrived. Michelle and Kylee enjoyed a well-deserved relaxing spa day at Woodhouse complete with massages, manicures, and pedicures. “It never occurred to me to have a spa day,” said Michelle. “I loved it! The massage was great, and I’m definitely going back.”

“The gifts KWF provides to patients have a positive impact on their healing as they affect their emotional well-being,” noted Dr. Partridge. “Patients coping with cancer are consumed by their disease—the symptoms, the constant schedule of medical appointments, treatment side effects, and the emotional rollercoaster,” said OHC President and KWF Medical Advisory Board member D. Randolph “Randy” Drosick, MD. “As their healthcare team, we work to help support our patients emotionally, but the work that KWF does allows patients to pause from all of this and enjoy precious moments with their loved ones. For some patients, they are experiencing a trip or special event for the very first time. It’s critical for overall well-being.”

Michelle will continue to follow up with Dr. Partridge for the duration of the five years she is being treated with an estrogen blocker. “Estrogen stimulates the growth of some breast cancers,” noted Dr. Partridge. “Drugs that lower estrogen levels can help prevent cancer recurrence.” Every mammogram since the lumpectomy has been normal.

Friends, loved ones, co-workers, and other compassionate individuals can nominate patients actively battling cancer to receive an experience from the KWF. To make a nomination or learn more about the Foundation, visit https://www.karenwellingtonfoundation.org/main.

To learn more about community resources available to cancer patients and their loved ones visit OHC’s website at https://ohcare.com/patient-resources/community-support-resources/. For more information on breast cancer, OHC’s breast surgical oncology program, and the advanced therapies offered by OHC’s cancer experts, call 1-888-649-4800.

Top picture: OHC breast cancer patient and Karen Wellington Foundation beneficiary Michelle Siefke has not let her diagnosis stop her from enjoying precious moments with her loved ones. She enjoys watching football games with her family, including her daughter, Kylee Newman (left), and her husband, Jeff Siefke.

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