There is a yin-yang to every screening mammogram. The yang of elation is when the radiologist says your mammogram is clear. Its opposite is dark terror if you learn you have a suspicious mass. After her annual mammogram in Jan. 2017, Kimberly Palczynski, 53, of Canton, experienced a yin moment. Further diagnostic tests showed her right breast had malignant invasive ductal carcinoma — breast cancer. Would she suffer an untimely death like her parents did? They both succumbed to cancer: Her mom, pancreatic, and dad, kidney.
Fighting back with problem solving skills
A results-driven leader, she manages leadership and development for Ford Motor Company’s Technical Assistance Center, Customer Service Division, Service Engineering Operations. When the going gets tough, so is Palczynski. It’s no surprise she shed no tears about this bad news. Instead, she let a few choice words fly. Then, she tackled her medical problem.
Palczynski researched who should be on her breast cancer treatment team. She vetted and “hired” breast surgeon Majd Aburabia, M.D., to be her team’s leader; medical genetics specialist Julie Zenger-Hain, Ph.D.; medical oncologist Oscar Signori, M.D.; radiation oncologist Maha Sada Jawad, M.D. and plastic surgeon Ian Lytle, M.D.
“Each is a great professional, so empathic and kind,” she said. “When I met Dr. Aburabia, she held my hand and said she was sorry I would have to go through a lot of cancer treatment. I asked a million questions; she patiently answered them all. We talked through everything. I knew immediately she would be my surgeon.”
Aburabia advises patients to consider their options and not base decisions on fear.
“Breast cancer survival rates are constantly improving,” Aburabia said. “The earlier the diagnosis is made, the better the outcome and the greater availability of treatment options.”
She added that a breast cancer diagnosis comes with feeling vulnerable.
“This feeling is foreign and unsettling to women, like Ms. Palczynski, who are independent and strong,” she said. “As a woman myself, I understand and appreciate this; and that leads to a special connection with my patients.”
Even self-reliant people should bring someone close to them when seeing a breast surgeon. Palczynski brought Kevin, her husband. The doctor asked them to gather questions that arose after their first appointment and return again in a few days to discuss everything. She supports patients and families making crucial decisions affecting the rest of their lives.
Aburabia asks her patients to consider lumpectomy surgery combined with radiation, or breast conserving therapy. Most choose this option to return to their lives and work sooner.
“Lumpectomy is as effective as mastectomy when it comes to survival rates,” she said. “Its goal is to remove cancer while maintaining the breast’s appearance. In most cases, the general contour, shape and symmetry are well preserved with little to no change.”
After Palczynski chose lumpectomy, Aburabia performed the surgery to remove the cancerous mass and calcifications in March 2017. The pathology report on the removed tissue came back — invasive ductal carcinoma Grade 3 (looks less like normal cells and growing faster) and Stage 2A (cancer in the breast 2 centimeters or smaller and found in one to three lymph nodes under the arm or near the breastbone).
Work as blessed distraction and support
During the next seven months, Palczynski received dose after dose of chemotherapy and radiation. She only took off from work for surgery and chemotherapy infusion. Work kept her mind active. Co-workers showered her with moral support.
Kevin accompanied her to each chemo day. He brought dozens of peach Oceana roses — their wedding flowers and his wife’s favorite — to celebrate her last chemotherapy treatment in Aug. 2017. Three months later, all 200 members of her work team wore pink to celebrate the end of her six weeks of daily radiation treatments.
Exercise as needed relief stress
“I’m thankful my treatment happened from spring to fall because I could keep up my nightly 5-mile walks with Kevin, who is also my best friend, walking partner and biggest supporter,” Palczynski said. “My medical oncologist, Dr. Signori, told me I was pushing myself too hard. But it’s how I kept myself feeling positive during a time when I had lost every hair on my head and body, most fingernails and toenails, sense of taste and my energy. I did what I could to stay strong and keep going. I just wanted to feel normal again.”
Though Palczynski chose not to have breast reconstruction, she appreciated having plastic surgeon Dr. Lytle to consult on her reconstruction questions.
“Dr. Aburabia did such a beautiful job on my lumpectomy that I can barely find my own scar,” she said. “In clothes, no one can tell the difference.”
Now a year cancer free, Palczynski has returned to creating decorative seasonal and holiday wreaths and baskets she uses to beautify her home and as gifts for family and friends.
“Last year, I only got a couple of Christmas trees up because I was so wiped out,” she said. “This year, I have my mojo back and will decorate every room. Kevin says he’s going to put up velvet ropes and give tours of our extremely festive home.”
She and Kevin also are making other fun future plans.
“We reassessed our priorities to make time for vacations with loved ones,” she said. “Last year was tough, but my faith remains strong; everything happens for a reason. I never ask ‘Why me?’ Life is a precious gift and I don’t want to waste a minute of it!”
Now, Palczynski wants to inspire other women going through breast cancer treatment to stay positive and fight hard.
“I am extremely blessed to have been surrounded by so many good-hearted people,” Palczynski said, “including Kevin, other family members, friends, co-workers and my health care heroes, including all my Beaumont physicians and oncology nurses Kelly Ayotte and Heather Bunse. They took this journey with me, supporting me every step of the way.”
- By Elizabeth Montalvo, from Beaumont Hospital Communications Department. She can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org