Few things in life are more unifying than a breast cancer diagnosis. Of course, the diagnosis itself is devastating, but it also has a way of bringing together family, friends and medical staff in unexpected and life-changing ways.
At Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS) patients have come to expect and appreciate the family-first team approach used to diagnose and treat breast cancer in the High Country. Thanks to advanced technology, a collaborative medical community, innovative surgical techniques, and a first-class regional cancer center located right here in our backyard, patients are choosing now more than ever to stay in our community for their cancer treatment.
Where we’ve been and where we are now
1993: Regional Cancer Center is established
Watauga Medical Center established the Seby B. Jones Regional Cancer Center in Boone, bringing cancer care – previously unavailable in the High Country – close to home. Patients and their caregivers are seen as family by the highly-trained and compassionate staff. Since its founding, the Cancer Center has continually improved access and quality of care.
2002: Wilma Redmond Fund begins providing mammograms for local women
The Wilma Redmond Mammography Fund is dedicated to the memory of Wilma Redmond, who for more than 20 years managed Watauga Medical Center’s Imaging Department and courageously fought her own breast cancer. When she died in 2002, a fund was established by Watauga Medical Center Foundation (currently Appalachian Regional Healthcare Foundation). The fund provides free first-time mammograms for uninsured women 35 years and older.
2003: Stereotactic breast biopsy is introduced at Watauga Medical Center
A breast biopsy obtains a sample of breast tissue in order to test for signs of breast cancer or other disorders. Stereotactic is a clinical word for a technique using a mammography machine to precisely locate where the sample should be taken. In 2015, The Wilma Redmond Breast Center, located in the Outpatient Imaging and Lab Center, began performing stereotactic breast biopsy.
2008: The first digital mammogram is performed
Breast diagnostics advanced even further in the High Country with the addition of digital mammography. Instead of mammograms producing x-ray film, a digital image is created that can be manipulated in order to see more clearly.
2015: 3D Mammography comes to the Wilma Redmond Breast Center
With a traditional mammogram, radiologists were tasked with reading the complexities of the breast in a flat image. 3D Mammography builds images into very thin layers, or slices, making details more clear and unobstructed by overlapping tissue.
Because 3D Mammography allows the radiologist to better assess the size, location and shape of any abnormal tissue, more cancers are found at earlier, more treatable stages. The Hologic Three-D mammography technology accounts for 41% increase in the detection of invasive breast cancers and a 40% decrease in a callback rate for a false positive finding.
Even so, some insurance companies still only cover the standard mammogram. Because ARHS felt so strongly about making the latest diagnostic technology available to all of our community, the healthcare system decided to perform all mammograms with 3D technology and not to ask patients to pay out of pocket for any additional costs not covered by their insurance.
2015: Local genetic testing expanded to provide an extensive panel of genetic mutations to be checked
Cancer Genetics counseling and testing is available to our patients. At the no-cost initial visit, patients can meet with a genetic counselor who reviews the patient’s personal and family history, discusses the risks and benefits of genetic testing, and provides support in healthcare decision making. Further testing and evaluation are also available.
2015: The Wilma Redmond Breast Center institutes a fast-track breast program and a breast navigation team
Patients with an abnormal breast screening are sent to a fast track for surgical consultation so doctors can diagnose cancer early and immediately begin to treat it. The breast navigator, Gloria Payne, RTRM, walks patients through the process of receiving abnormal results, scheduling additional imaging examinations, and sending patients for surgical consultation.
2018: The Together We Fight collaborative coordinates many local events for maximum impact
The collaborative approach took shape after several community organizations discussed ways to join forces to support breast cancer patients on a local level. The Together We Fight collaborative includes community events and fundraisers such as Tanger Outlets PINK campaign, Doc’s Rocks Mining for a Purpose, Pink Day at ARHS, CrossFit event Kilograms for Mammograms, and the High Country Breast Cancer Foundation’s Walk/Run for Breast Cancer.
2018: Hidden Scar® Breast Cancer Surgery is introduced at Watauga Medical Center
Hidden Scar is an advanced surgical technique used to hide the scars of cancer surgery as best as possible with an oncoplastic approach. If surgery is recommended to remove breast cancer, patients can take comfort in the fact that Watauga Medical Center is one of only a few hospitals in North Carolina to offer Hidden Scar® Breast Cancer Surgery. Both Dr. Anne-Corinne Beaver and Dr. Paul Dagher of Watauga Surgical Group have been recognized as Hidden Scar® Trained Surgeons for Hidden Scar® Breast Cancer Surgery.
2018: Progressive Anesthesia is performed for Breast Cancer Surgery at Watauga Medical Center
The Anesthesia team at Watauga Medical Center began routinely performing ultrasound-guided pectoralis muscle blocks for better pain control during and after surgery. This allows less inhalational agents and less opioid pain medicines to be used, which is believed to improve outcomes— especially for cancer patients.
2019: Breast MRI is used for advanced diagnostics
Breast MRI provides advanced diagnostics for detecting breast cancer, other breast abnormalities, or routine breast screening. This is another important tool in detecting breast cancer early and accurately.
2019: Paxman Scalp Cooling technology available
Thanks to generous donors, Paxman scalp cooling is available to qualifying patients receiving chemotherapy treatments for solid tumor cancer. It helps to prevent hair-loss caused by certain chemotherapy drugs. The goal is to help patients look and feel their best while fighting a difficult battle.
Dr. Anne-Corinne Beaver, a beloved physician and general/breast surgeon at Watauga Surgical Group, learned first-hand that cancer does not discriminate when she was diagnosed with the disease in November of 2017. With experience on both sides of the treatment, she has developed even more of a passion to see advanced breast cancer care in the High Country.
“I can testify as both a surgeon and as a survivor that this community is All In when it comes to fighting breast cancer,” said Dr. Beaver. “I chose to stay close to home for my breast cancer treatment because I know just how good the treatment services are right here in this community.”