Helen's Story

A Life-Saving Mammogram Using the Latest Technology

Patient Stories | Helen NovotneyHelen Novotney had never had a screening mammogram because she always felt healthy. That changed in late 2012, as she helped her aunt navigate her own breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. While attending her aunt’s doctor appointment, she was encouraged by Marjie Persons, MD – a University Hospitals breast surgeon – to have a screening mammogram. Helen was hesitant. She did her monthly self-exams with complete success. However, as Helen says, “Dr. Persons was very persuasive in explaining the importance of the mammogram.”

Based on her family history, Dr. Persons ordered a mammogram for Helen using tomosynthesis, a screening technology that uses 3D imaging to give a much clearer view of a dense breast than a traditional digital mammogram. This technology saved Helen’s life. The tumor was an aggressive form found near the chest wall and was better detected using tomosynthesis technology.

Once the tumor was identified by the initial screening mammogram, Helen was able to undergo additional testing that same day, and within three days, she had had a needle biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. Helen was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of breast cancer that can be difficult to treat. Near the end of 2012, Helen had a lumpectomy to remove her tumor.

After her diagnosis and lumpectomy, Helen met with her oncologist, Paula Silverman, MD. Dr. Silverman explained all of Helen’s treatment options and offered her the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial. Helen jumped right in.

“I believe that women did research to get us to this point in treating breast cancer,” Helen said. “It is my responsibility to continue the process of learning and help advance breast cancer cures even further.”

Helen enrolled in a study that is looking into the effectiveness of adding medication to standard chemotherapy to potentially make it more beneficial. She also enrolled in a radiation therapy study that compares longer doses of radiation over a shorter period of time (three weeks) with shorter doses over a longer time (six weeks).

Throughout her diagnosis and treatment, Helen remained calm and positive. She views her clinical trial experiences as a benefit: “I get the same treatments as other patients with diagnoses like mine, but with something extra added. No matter what happens in the future, we are learning something important from my experience.”

Helen appreciates the support of the University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center staff and her employer. With their help, she has been able to schedule her treatments with minimal impact on her home life or her work. She echoes the advice that Dr. Persons gave her at that first mammogram appointment.

“Even men get breast cancer. No one is immune,” Helen said. “Even if you feel healthy, it’s important to take responsibility and get tested. I was lucky to have one angel after another pushing me to do this.”