October 24, 2023
Ali Miller-Bultman, a Montgomery, Ohio firefighter, knows too well the importance of safety and reducing risks when fighting a fire. What she didn’t expect was the fight she would embark on with her own personal battle with breast cancer. A daughter of two loving parents who both battled blood cancer, Ali knew when she celebrated her 40th birthday, it was time to begin her screenings and scheduled her first mammogram. That first mammogram, in October 2021, turned out to be more important than she could have imagined. It revealed stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) breast cancer. She’d had no symptoms, never noticed a lump, and didn’t have a history of breast cancer in her family. Being a first responder, she knew she needed to stay calm and was resolved to not overreact. She knew stage 0 was low and her odds were good. Ali was referred to OHC breast surgical oncologist Abigail M. Tremelling, MD, FACS, by the Mercy Health Breast Center.
“DCIS is a very early stage of breast cancer. Because of the early detection, and Ali’s desire to be aggressive with her treatment, the best course of action was to do a double mastectomy and reconstruction, with no chemo or radiation. This gave her the same chance of recurrence, approximately 3-5%, without causing potential damage to her heart and lungs,” says Dr. Tremelling. Ali underwent a bilateral nipple-sparing double mastectomy, a challenging surgery that leaves the nipple and areola untouched. “Not all women are good candidates for this surgery but I felt with Ali’s history and diagnosis, it was the option that provided her with the best outcome,” notes Dr. Tremelling, a leading surgical expert in this type of procedure. Dr. Tremelling worked with Mercy Health plastic surgeon Dr. Neil Kundu to perform Ali’s reconstruction at the same time as her mastectomy. Her surgery was completed in March of 2022 and after 8 weeks of healing, Ali was cleared to return to work. She was eager to be back and helping others. “Everything looked great at my 6-month follow-up after that, but only 4 months later, in January 2023, I felt a small lump in my breast,” notes Ali. “In the 7 millimeters of tissue left in my breast, they did a biopsy and found stage 1b invasive ductal carcinoma.”
Ali began her second battle with OHC medical oncologist and hematologist, D. Randolph “Randy” Drosick, MD, who reassured her they would do whatever was necessary to beat the cancer. “Ali’s perseverance to eliminate cancer, and not have to come back again, fuels her and has driven our plan to be aggressive in treating her breast cancer. With our treatment plan, I believe the odds are good. Her strength and courage are admirable,” adds Dr. Drosick.
Ali successfully completed her second round of treatment this month, which included four rounds of Adriamycin-Cytoxan, and 12 rounds of Taxol. After a month’s break, she then completed 30 rounds of radiation. OHC radiation oncologist Joseph N. Shaughnessy, MD believes that this course of action will give Ali the best outcome for the future, adding “This strategy provides Ali with the most aggressive action we can take, with the intent to leave her in remission for a much longer window than she had previously. She’s an incredibly brave woman who is tackling this challenge head-on, and we’re here to help her achieve her goal.”
Ali looks back at the recurrence as a luck of the draw, “Dr. Tremelling did everything she could, but the tumor was big and there was no way to know for sure that it hadn’t grown outside of the milk duct. They took everything they could out of my left breast. The odds were low but I figured if it had to happen to anyone, let it happen to me. I’m young, I’m strong, I can fight it.”
“Based on my parents’ experience, it was a no-brainer for me to receive treatment at OHC. Both of my parents had blood cancers and were treated at OHC in the past. My dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2001. Initially, he was seen by a non-OHC cancer provider who gave him 5 years to live. We decided to get a second opinion at OHC and because of his enrollment in their clinical trials program, my dad was able to be with us for an additional 19 years.” says Ali.
Chemo treatments are not usually a good time, but to Ali, getting treatments felt more like hanging out with friends. Building relationships with the nurses started with her t-shirts, wearing a new fun t-shirt each appointment, to help bring a little light to the staff and other patients. “It hasn’t all been roses, but spending time with these nurses and being able to go home at the end of it to my wife and my dogs makes all the difference,” says Ali.
It’s clear to see Ali’s relationship with her doctors and nurses while she chats with them and gets updates on their lives, asking about their recent trip, their partners, families, and the things that they enjoy. She also notes how hard they work, “Dr. Drosick is the president of OHC, still sees patients, and then has time to research trials for his patients before discussing new treatment options, it’s just nice to see someone who has such a devotion to his patients, even with his busy schedule.” As an officer for her shift at the fire station, she’s aware of the dedication and discipline it takes to put aside the main part of the job to focus on the administrative side and is glad that Dr. Drosick is her doctor.
As a first responder, she often helps transport cancer patients to the hospital when they are in need. Because of her experience with breast cancer, she has been able to connect with patients even more than she did before. “I had a transport just the other day who was reacting to a chemo drug. She was struggling and I bent down to talk with her and told her, I know where you are right now because I’ve been there. We can do this.”
It’s incredibly important for women to schedule their annual mammogram, starting no later than 40. “If I had waited, there’s a good chance it could have been worse when it was found. Luckily, it was found early and I’m young,” adds Ali.
OHC emphasizes the importance of cancer screenings for men and women. Be sure to share any family history of cancer or unusual signs or symptoms, with your healthcare provider, and establish your roadmap for cancer preventive screenings.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer, want a second opinion, or want to learn more about our cancer research and clinical trials program, please contact OHC to make an appointment. Call 888-649-4800 or visit ohcare.com.Comments (0)