Patient Story: Kim
My story begins when I found a lump in my left breast in 1989. I was living in San Diego and I had brought the lump to the attention of my physician, who in turn sent me to a breast specialist. They did a mammogram and ultrasound and determined that it was probably just a cyst as it did not show up on either test. Over the next two years, I noticed the lump was growing and I had 5 more mammograms and 3 more ultrasounds, which were all negative. When I asked about doing a biopsy, the breast specialist said it was not necessary since it did not show up on any of the diagnostic tests.
In September of 1991 I was recruited to UCLA to administratively run the Department of Energy lab. At that time, I decided I should probably find a physician and get a check-up. In November I went to a Women’s Clinic in Santa Monica and had a routine check- up. I pointed out the lump to the physician and she sent me to their breast specialist. After doing another mammogram and ultrasound, which were both negative, she felt that it would be a good idea to do a biopsy since she could feel the lump and I had told her it was getting bigger. When I returned to work, I told the Director of the DOE lab that I would need to be out for the biopsy. He then suggested that we call Dr. Michael Phelps, who was the Director of our Nuclear Medicine Division and see if he thought I should have a PET Scan.
Dr. Phelps set up the scan for me and after the scan, Dr. Carl Hoh informed me that I had a 3.5 cm tumor that appeared to be malignant. He did not see any lymph node activity, which was good news. When I went for the biopsy it confirmed that the tumor was malignant and that it was Infiltrating Lobular Cancer. Because of this diagnosis, I chose to do a double mastectomy and reconstruction. After the surgery, I was scheduled to do CA15 blood tests every 4 months and many times they would come back with the numbers rising, which means the cancer had returned. This would require me to do another blood test and wait two weeks, on pins and needles and in fear, for the results. Each time this happened, Dr. Czernin would do a PET Scan, which always came back negative for cancer and the subsequent blood test would also be negative. I finally gave up doing the blood tests, since this was so nerve racking and only did PET Scans. These scans were always negative for cancer and I could get the results immediately. Over the next several years I did annual PET Scans and to my relief they all came back negative.
This experience began my life-long commitment to PET and the UCLA Nuclear Medicine group. I became an advocate for PET and spent several years working with Dr. Phelps, Dr. Czernin and others in the department, to get approval for payment through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. It took many years, but today most patients can get a PET Scan paid for through their insurance company.
My story doesn’t end here. In February 2009 I had my gall bladder removed because I had been having pain and symptoms for gall stones. Once it was removed, there appeared to be no sign of gall stones and I continued to have some pain and several symptoms that caused my physician to order a CT Scan of my abdomen. The evening of the scan my physician called to tell me that the scan showed definite signs of Pancreatic Cancer and that I needed to schedule surgery immediately. Since I knew exactly what this diagnosis meant, I was shocked and distraught.
I refused to schedule surgery and called Dr. Johannes Czernin that same evening. Since this was on a Friday, Dr. Czernin set up a PET Scan for me on Monday morning.
After I did the scan on Monday morning, Dr. Czernin told me that the pancreas did show some activity, but he did not believe it was cancer and that it looked more like inflammation. I had also made an appointment with the oncologist who sent me to the pancreatic surgeon. He agreed that further testing needed to be done before they operated. I was scheduled for an endoscopic ultrasound and biopsy in April and the results came back negative for cancer.
This was really an incredible experience since had I just listened to my physician I would have had a very serious surgery that could have caused a lot of damage to my pancreas and would have had a permanent impact on my health for the rest of my life.
These are just a couple of examples of why I will always be committed to the UCLA Nuclear Medicine group and to Dr.’s Czernin and Phelps for their expertise and their commitment to making a difference in the care of all patients by diagnosing disease at the earliest stage. I continue to live in San Diego, but when there is anything I need medically, beyond the routine exams, I will always go to Dr. Czernin and accept that whatever he advises will be the best path for me to follow.