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Nurse Says Don’t Take Breast Changes For Granted

By Andy Knef

Staff nurse coordinator Billie Swartz, left, discusses a patient chart with Barbara Rogers. Andy Knef photo

June 23, 2011 - The most recent honoree of the Black and White Ball, benefiting the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, has a lifesaving message for women — “It’s not always a lump.”

Barbara Rogers, a staff nurse at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, shared her story at the $100-a-ticket event May 13 at the Ameristar nightclub, where she was the featured speaker. She learned firsthand about the diverse ways breast cancer presents itself when she was diagnosed in March 2007.

The 12-year Missouri Baptist employee noticed a rash during a breast self-examination, which she attributed at first to a routine skin reaction. Her long experience as a nurse prompted Rogers to get an expert opinion, so she sought out the resources of the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital. Rogers learned she had two types of breast cancer, including Paget’s, which is identified as skin eruptions resembling the rash that Rogers noticed originally.

“When I found out, I was devastated, of course, but I almost immediately transitioned to a positive mindset,” she recalls. “As a veteran nurse and someone who has been around cancer my entire life, I knew I was going to win this battle.”

Rogers explains that her mother and grandmother both died of breast cancer, her mother at the age of 48. “I accepted my diagnosis,” she says. “I knew I wasn’t going to die – today, the survival rate for women with my diagnosis is very good. I knew the ‘C’ word was not a death sentence.”

To carry on the fight, Rogers turned to physicians at Siteman's St. Peters location – medical oncologist Timothy Pluard, MD, and radiation oncologist Lannis Hall, MD, MPH. She received support from her husband, Larry, an accountant at Proctor & Gamble, and her daughter, Jennifer, then 16. Finally, Rogers’ Missouri Baptist co-workers stepped up instantly with a commitment to cover for her during her 10-month absence.

Roger’s treatment consisted of a radical mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In October 2007, she was declared cancer-free.

“I consider myself very lucky,” she says. “If I had not gotten medical attention when I found the rash, it would have been too late.”

That’s exactly the prevention message that the St. Charles resident and part-time soccer coach stressed at the Black and White black-tie affair. “The most important thing I would tell women based on my case is never to ignore changes in your breasts, no matter how innocent they appear,” Rogers says. “Any changes must be looked at carefully, and don’t hesitate to seek out expert medical opinion.”

Rogers says her daughter, Jennifer, was her primary caregiver during her treatment regimen, accompanying her to some treatment sessions and determinedly learning about breast cancer. “She became a very mature 16-year-old very fast,” Rogers recalls.

The 29-year BJC HealthCare employee says she was overwhelmed by the honor of being the Black and White Ball’s first woman honoree in the organization’s third year. “I think I was selected because of my experience as a breast cancer patient and my activism as an advocate for breast cancer prevention,” she says. “I lecture, visit women’s groups, and generally pester all my colleagues and girlfriends on the vital importance of mammograms, regular appointments and correctly done breast self-examinations.”

Rogers is currently receiving follow-up care at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital – examinations every three months, post-cancer medications and genetic testing.

The ball, organized by the Eleven 18 Foundation, raises funds for the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital.