Finding cancer care during COVID

Woman’s persistence pays after struggle to find biopsy provider


While the rest of the world was being told to stay home and delay medical care in the spring of 2020, Littleton-area resident Suzi McCumber was searching for a place to perform a recommended biopsy.

In February las year, McCumber said she got the mammogram her doctor recommended.

Soon after, McCumber said her doctor called and said the 3D scan picked up something suspicious that would require a biopsy and closer look. The problem, McCumber explained, was that by the time she got the mammogram results, it was March, and the world was shutting down.

McCumber said the hospital stopped doing procedures and pushed her case to a local surgical facility. Before she could get the biopsy, that facility closed.

In the appointment to get the mammogram results, her doctor told her she would need a biopsy, McCumber said he marked the spot with a Sharpie marker. In the following weeks as she called multiple places trying to find a place to do the biopsy, the 66-year-old said she kept remarking the spot.

“I had a magic marker and I just didn’t want to lose the spot that my doctor thought would be taken care of in days,” she said. “COVID caused so many delays. It seemed like it took forever.”

By late March, McCumber’s persistence paid off. She found a place that performed the biopsy, and the results came back positive for breast cancer.

By the time she got her biopsy, the mass had doubled and was diagnosed as extremely aggressive.

McCumber’s physician, Dr. Radhika Acharya-Leon, section chief for medical oncology at UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital, said had McCumber not been persistent in finding a place to do the biopsy and move treatment forward, she would likely have not made it through the year.

Based on imaging, Acharya-Leon said the mass was originally estimated at about three millimeters in size. By the time of the biopsy and removal, the mass had grown past about seven millimeters. McCumber tested positive for the HER2+ marker, which means too much protein makes the tumor grow rapidly.

“This exemplifies that if you have a delayed diagnosis, you have to jump through more hoops for treatment,” Acharya-Leon said.

While McCumber was not to blame for the delayed treatment and testing, once the tumor exceeded five millimeters, Acharya-Leon said chemo is required.

Acharya-Leon said McCumber is responding well to treatment that will continue through June.

In advising others, McCumber said even in a pandemic, it is important to follow up with recommended treatment and screenings.

“You have got to get in there and do it,” she said. “I am not sure I would be here today if I had not gotten the 3D mammogram or just kept going. It’s important to be positive and trust the medicine.”


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