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The Best Care is In Your Backyard

January 3rd, 2020
Good Samaritan Hospital patient Alana Buffa

Alana Buffa had numerous risk factors for breast cancer: she had benign breast disease since she was 19 years old, her older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 47, and she is of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.

So it should not have come as a complete shock when she, like her sister, was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 47. Yet when Alana heard the words, “You have cancer,” shock and fear were the overriding emotions she experienced.

A West Islip resident, she lives within walking distance to Good Samaritan Hospital and the office of breast surgeon Anthony Capizzi, MD, which is where she headed immediately after a routine mammogram and ultrasound picked up the suspicious finding. Dr. Capizzi and his staff were part of a team of experts Alana would later refer to as “my angels.”

A needle biopsy performed at Good Samaritan’s Breast Health Center confirmed that Alana had invasive ductal cancer. Her sister accompanied Mrs. Buffa to some of her early appointments to ask questions and help her understand the information being presented.

“When she went home, she did research on Good Samaritan. She called me and said, ‘Do you know how many awards Good Sam has for their breast care? You are in very good hands at this hospital’,” Alana said. Among the benefits that her sister highlighted was the fact that Good Samaritan’s comprehensive Cancer Institute offers the full range of treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy, genetic testing and radiation therapy.

“If I would have needed radiation, instead of traveling into the city or to a distant hospital for six weeks, I would have been able to walk to Good Sam,” she said.

She initially opted for a lumpectomy, which required wire localization, a procedure in which a wire is first placed into the breast using mammographic guidance to enable the surgeon to remove the correct area of the lesion. This is done the hospital’s radiology department while the patient is awake.

During the wire localization, Alana’s fear got the better of her and she began to cry.

“Three nurses came over said, “Talk to us. Why are you crying?’ One said, “It’s ok, I had breast cancer, too.’ When you hear someone say I had this, you know this person gets it,” Mrs. Buffa said.

Throughout her experience at Good Sam, Mrs. Buffa knew that she was never alone. That message was driven home when Geri, a registered nurse from the Breast Care Center, introduced herself on the morning of surgery and informed Alana that she would stay by her side.

“If there could be a special part of having breast cancer, it would be that there is a woman whose sole job is to hold your hand as you are wheeled into the operating room,” Alana said. “I can’t imagine being wheeled into a cold OR alone without one of those women there. They made a huge difference.”

After her initial surgery, the biopsy results showed that Alana had lobular carcinoma in situ, an invasive cancer that increased her risk of developing a recurrence in both breasts. Her doctors presented her with treatment options but let her know that the decision was up to her.

As the mother of a young son, she never wanted to hear the words, “You have cancer,” again, so she elected to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction. Her medical team grew to include plastic and reconstructive surgeon Jonathan V. Landon, MD, and medical oncologist John J. Loscalzo, MD. Although this decision spared Alana from radiation treatments, she also had a consultation with Johnny Kao, MD, Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Good Sam, who supported and validated her decision.

Every encounter she had with a member of the team reinforced for Alana that choosing Good Samaritan was the right decision. From Dr. Loscalzo, who “had an answer for every question I asked with statistics to back it up,” to Dr. Landon, who gave her his home number and “spent hours and hours explaining every single detail” so that Alana would not go into OR with one question unanswered, she had full confidence that she was receiving the best available care.

Understanding her risk level was critical information that helped Alana make her treatment decision with confidence. Jessica Kenney helped Alana interpret the results of her genetic testing.

“She was so thorough and made me feel like I was the only patient she’s ever seen,” Alana remarked.

Equal to the high level of medical expertise that her medical team offered was their compassion which was matched by the entire Good Sam staff.

“From the moment I walked through the door, every single person at hospital went out of their way to make me comfortable. And not just me. They asked my husband, my father, everyone with me how they could help,” Alana said.

Alana attended two support groups to help her manage the emotions she experienced as a cancer patient. One was held in Dr. Capizzi’s office. The other was a group specifically for younger breast cancer patients. It is held at Good Samaritan and run by Bonnie Edsall, MS, RN, CBCN, CN-BN, Nurse Manager of the Breast Care Center. There Alana bonded with other women going through similar experiences.

Good Samaritan’s Breast Care Center includes an on-site boutique to meet women’s post-surgical needs for special bras and other garments. During a private appointment, the manager helped Alana select a bra that clasped in the front.

“I wouldn’t have thought of that if somebody hadn’t told me,” she said. When she needed an additional garment, she called the boutique and was offered the option of having the bra delivered to her house. Instead, someone carried it down to her car for her, saving her the discomfort of getting out of the car after her surgery.

Based on her experience, Alana is eager to share her story with anyone who needs the type of care she did.

“I will tell anyone who will listen that there’s absolutely no reason to go to the city,” she said. “The best care is right in your backyard.”