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Breast Cancer Survivor Uses Her Experience to Help Other Women
I want every patient to feel they are the most important person in the room, so that in addition to having top medical care, they feel cared for on an emotional level.
On a typical day at Johns Hopkins Medical Imaging at Green Spring Station, patients coming in for imaging tests such as MRIs, ultrasounds and mammograms have a comforting advocate available in the waiting room. Kate Pisano is a patient liaison — there to meet the needs of the patients by providing resources and support.
With Kate’s smile and cheerful attitude, it’s not obvious that recently she too was a patient sitting in the waiting room confronting her own major health challenges.
Two years ago Kate was fighting breast cancer and facing it alone as a single working mother of two teenaged sons.
Months after a painful divorce, Kate noticed a lump in her breast while getting undressed.
“I was afraid of what the lump might mean, so I waited several weeks before finally making an appointment with my doctor,” she said.
That appointment led to a mammogram followed by a biopsy. In April of 2012, Kate’s greatest fear was confirmed: She had breast cancer.
“The diagnosis was a complete surprise. I ate right, exercised and no one in my family had cancer,” said Kate.
Finding Hope at Hopkins
After exploring many options in Baltimore and beyond to find what she felt was the best treatment team for her, Kate decided to receive treatment from Johns Hopkins. Kate’s medical team combined specialists in imaging, surgery and oncology to help her fight breast cancer.
“Everyone from imaging and surgery through radiation treatment took great care of me,” she said. “I feel like they really cared about meeting my individual needs both medically and emotionally.”
Kate says this was especially critical for her given the lack of adult family support. Her oldest son was away at college and she did not have family nearby who could help.
“Facing cancer is a rugged process and I didn’t have another adult at home I could turn to,” said Kate. “At night I would lie alone in the dark, crying.”
Kate had surgery to have the lump removed, followed by chemotherapy and radiation for the next four months. Two weeks into treatment, her hair fell out.
“It was daunting being newly single, nearly fifty and bald,” said Kate. Months of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation came to an end and Kate is now considered a survivor in remission.
At Kate’s first post-breast cancer mammogram, she said a conversation with Dr. Lisa Mullen helped her achieve a sense of peace.
“Dr. Mullen helped me feel confident that today there is no cancer, and that is the best answer I can have,” she said. “The only way I can be a 20- or 30- or 40-year survivor is to be a survivor today.”
From Surviving to Thriving
Kate’s story of being a single mom facing cancer is not unique, but it is often an untold story.
“There are more women than you know who face this alone,” she said. “I have wonderful friends who came to appointments and supported me. There is no way I could have gotten through this without them, but the reality is going through the process with a child to raise and no adult support at home is overwhelming.”
As she rebuilt her life, Kate wanted to use her experiences to help others. In July 2013, Kate began a position at Johns Hopkins Imaging as a patient liaison.
“My own incredible experience as a patient at Johns Hopkins informs how I do what I do each day,” she said. “I want every patient to feel they are the most important person in the room, so that in addition to having top medical care, they feel cared for on an emotional level.”
Kate says radiology and imaging are an important piece of the cancer treatment process because so often that is the place where patients find answers about what is happening inside their bodies.
“Patients either get launched or sunk by what they learn. Whether it’s for a mammogram, a MRI or any other imaging test, it’s scary until you get the answers,” said Kate. “I know that in that moment, finding an answer is the patient’s whole world while they wait.”
Kate wants all women, especially single moms, to know they can overcome a breast cancer diagnosis and that life can be good again.
“Getting through breast cancer showed me the strength I had inside. Today I know I am not just a survivor, I am a ‘thriver .’”
Johns Hopkins Imaging provides a full range of medical imaging services including 3-D mammography, MRI and ultrasound. At the Johns Hopkins Breast Center, we offer a comprehensive program with world-renowned breast cancer experts who can help no matter where you are in your journey.
Approximately one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Fortunately, with early detection and advancements in treatment options, millions of women have survived breast cancer.