A Young Mother's Oncology Care Close to Home

At 34, Shanthi Drescher was full of plans for the future. Then she found out she had breast cancer. She thought she was too young to have the disease. She was overwhelmed. Until her doctor told her about Home for Hope for young breast cancer patients. Through Home for Hope, she got assistance with managing the challenges of her condition as a new mother. Now her treatments are over. And Shanthi can shift her focus back to enjoying time with her toddler twin sons. She is living proof that caring for the mind and soul is just as important as healing the body.

Shanthi, her husband Walter, and their two-year-old sons were new to the Pittsburgh area. She was looking forward to so many things. Furnishing a new house in Cranberry Township. Exploring her new city. Going back to work as a mechanical engineer. A diagnosis of stage-3 breast cancer was not part of her plans.

When Shanthi found a lump in her breast, she thought it wasn’t serious. Then she developed a sharp, shooting pain in her left arm. It made it difficult to pick up her boys. She saw her primary care doctor, Dr. Dina Myers, who ordered a mammogram. It confirmed Shanthi had breast cancer.

At first, Shanthi was overwhelmed. “I was in the best shape physically, riding my bike a lot. Cancer was not in my family history. My first question was, ‘Why me?’ I was very emotional,” said Shanthi. “My boys were so young. Who was going to take care of them? They needed their mother.

“It wasn’t until I met with Dr. Duggal that I understood it was treatable, not fatal. She was more than a doctor. She became like family to me,” Shanthi said. “She explained everything. It was very comforting to me and my family.”

Setting a personalized plan for treatment

“When the mammogram showed an abnormality, Shanthi came to me,” said Dr. Shivani Duggal, a breast surgeon at the Allegheny Health Network (AHN) Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion. “Triple negative breast cancer is aggressive, but the patient can benefit from chemotherapy. So we treated Shanthi aggressively up front.”

Together, Dr. Duggal and Shanthi came up with a plan to defeat her cancer. “It made me feel better to have some control over it,” Shanthi said.

Shanti’s treatment began with 16 sessions of chemotherapy over 18 weeks. She would then undergo a lumpectomy followed by 22 daily sessions of radiology. She wouldn’t be able to care for her children and still get to all of the appointments. Her doctors understood her challenges and connected her with Home for Hope.

Services for younger women with cancer

Home for Hope offers assistance to pre-menopausal women with breast cancer. It treats them with more than just medicine to addresses their emotional well-being. It is funded by supporters of the Glimmer of Hope Foundation that is committed to funding local breast cancer programs.

Home for Hope acknowledges younger women with breast cancer have special challenges. Unlike some older cancer patients, they have careers, children, and complicated schedules. Taking care of young children also requires a lot of energy. A common side effect of chemotherapy is fatigue.

“Chemotherapy was rough both physically and mentally,” Shanthi said. “I had to deal with fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, constipation, hair loss, nail loss, etc.”

The Home for Hope program offers a range of services for women to enhance their quality of life during treatment:

Assistance from a care navigator, who will coordinate support services and medical care
Nutrition counseling by a registered, license dietitian
Massage therapy or acupuncture sessions

Shanthi found that the massages helped her relieve stress after her radiation treatments.

Oncology care close to home

She also enjoyed the convenient location of Home for Hope within the Wexford Health + Wellness Pavilion. It is less than 15 minutes from her home. Her chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation were all in the same building.

“Aside from a couple of tests at Allegheny General and Forbes Hospitals, all my care and doctors were at Wexford,” Shanthi said. “ This helped a lot. My mom was staying with us to care for the boys, and having all my cancer treatments close to home gave me more time with my family.”

Planning for the future

Once again, Shanthi is planning happily for the future. “Every day is a blessing, and I want to embrace it with a grateful heart. I want to make memories with my boys and be there for them. We haven’t had a chance to explore Pittsburgh with them — the zoo, museums, and waterparks. I’m looking forward to when I’m done and don’t have to think about it anymore. All of us are.”

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