When author and healthcare activist Elizabeth Edwards lost her battle with breast cancer in December 2010, it was a stark reminder for Susan Kramer to schedule her yearly mammogram. Just weeks later, she walked into the Bobetta Lindig Breast Care Center at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center fully expecting to leave with a clean bill of health. Instead, she was called back for further testing. After a second (diagnostic) mammogram and breast biopsy, it was confirmed. Susan had breast cancer.
“My world fell out from underneath me when I heard the words ‘you have cancer,’” said Susan. “Since I’d been so good about having annual mammograms, I was surprised to have it happen to me.”
Susan sought treatment at the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center at Memorial Hermann Memorial City. Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers are accredited by the Commission on Cancer (CoC) of the American College of Surgeons (ACoS), meaning they provide the full spectrum of services and support to patients – from prevention and diagnosis to treatment and beyond.
After her cancer diagnosis, Susan was immediately connected to physician Frankie Holmes, M.D., a beloved medical oncologist known for her devotion to patients. Affiliated with Memorial Hermann Memorial City, Dr. Holmes took over Susan’s care, providing physician recommendations, options and input on how Susan could undergo treatment and recovery all in one place, close to home.
The first line of attack for Susan’s cancer was surgery. Rick Ngo, M.D., Susan’s surgeon, gave her two options – a lumpectomy or mastectomy. After weighing the pros and cons, Susan chose to have a lumpectomy.
Using cells from Susan’s tumor, Dr. Holmes ordered an Oncotype DX test, which is a genomic, or genetic, test that helps guide decisions about whether additional treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy is necessary after surgery. The test scores the tumor from 0 to 100 with the lower numbers representing a lower likelihood of recurrence. Susan scored in the single digits, meaning she had a low risk of recurrence and the benefit of chemotherapy did not outweigh the risks.
Although she was relieved about not having to undergo chemotherapy, she did, however, undergo six weeks of radiation, and continues to take a daily dose of Femara (chemical name Letrozole) for the foreseeable future.
Like many cancer patients and survivors, Susan made a conscious effort to elevate her life above cancer. After she completed radiation and regained some of her strength, she started investing in her health and giving back.
Through the newly named Lindig Family Cancer Resource Center, she and her husband Karl joined a breast cancer support group for patients and caregivers. Susan even started art therapy that is offered at the Center, which she highly recommends. “I started out as someone who didn’t have a clue about how to paint and I’ve grown to love it. I even bought my own supplies and use them at home when I need to relax.”
In Oct. 2012, Susan joined CanCare as a volunteer and now helps train new CanCare volunteers. As Volunteer Coordinator/Trainer for CanCare at Memorial Hermann Memorial City, Susan devotes over 10 hours each week, training other volunteers to mentor and provide emotional support for cancer survivors as well as their caregivers.
“Mentoring other cancer patients makes me whole,” added Susan. “I know my journey through breast cancer had a higher purpose and that is to give back to others who are experiencing what I did. My job is to listen and restore hope, and I’ll continue to do it as long as they’ll have me.”