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My Experience with GBMC Will Stay with Me Forever

August 15, 2022

In the back of her mind, Alicia Barger always knew something like this was coming.

When an abnormality appeared during her regular mammogram and ultrasound in February 2021, the 46-year-old speech-language pathology graduate instructor did not hesitate. Her primary care doctor at GBMC Health Partners, Dr. Sarah Whiteford, acknowledged news of an abnormality could be scary, but assured Alicia she would be in good hands with Dr. Sara FogartyDirector of the Sandra and Malcolm Berman Comprehensive Breast Care Center at GBMC.

“I trust Dr. Whiteford implicitly,” Alicia said. “Four days after my biopsy results came in, I met my nurse navigator, who ended up being my nurse champion.

“And then Dr. Fogarty came in. She eased my mind. She came in a few minutes late because she had been in surgery all day, but she spent so much time with me and walked me through step by step, very clear, very concise, and very real about the experience. She answered every question but wasn’t an alarmist. She was articulate and made me feel like this was an approachable thing, that I could do this.”

Dr. Fogarty performed a lumpectomy in April. A few days after her the surgery, Alicia got a call from her breast surgeon with the pathology report: she needed to come back in.

“That time I was nervous,” Alicia said. “I brought my husband.”

The pathology report showed micro invasive cancer, which moved Alicia’s Stage 0 ductal carcinoma in situ diagnosis to a Stage 1A breast cancer diagnosis, which meant an additional surgery for a margin re-excision of the first lumpectomy and sentinel node biopsy. Radiation was also added to the treatment plan to ensure margins stayed clear.

“The worst parts of the entire process were the days of the surgeries when they have to wheel you all over for prep. That was stressful,” Alicia said. “That’s why I think the new (Sandra R. Berman Pavilion) building is going to be so incredible because you won’t have to go through the hallways and move all around to get things done.”

During her diagnosis and treatment, Alicia shared her journey with friends and family, some of whom still live in her parents’ hometown of Elmira, New York. Everyone had advice or an experience to share, but Alicia followed her intuition, including putting her faith in experts she trusts at GBMC.

“I think sometimes people look at Baltimore and think Hopkins, so they will ask if I was treated there, but just because Hopkins has the name, that doesn’t always mean it’s the place to go for you. Especially if you live in the Baltimore County area, GBMC is where you go. It doesn’t feel like a hospital. It’s so welcoming. I already knew the system and I felt very at ease.”

In addition to having a cancer experience and a primary care doctor at GBMC, Alicia also went through fertility treatment and eventually utlized GBMC’s Labor and Delivery services when she had her only daughter, Maggie, who is now a preteen. The two are extremely close and concerns for Maggie dominated Alicia’s thoughts through her diagnosis and treatment.

“When I first got this diagnosis, it was like the ball dropped. I think my whole life I was waiting for something like this to happen,” Alicia said. “We sat Maggie down and explained it to her the same way Dr. Fogarty explained it to me. That was the hardest thing for me: wanting her to understand it but not to scare her. We talked about it a lot and how it might impact her later in life. I’m very open with her.”

Reports following the second surgery found no traces of cancerous cells, and at her mammogram in February 2022, everything remained clear. All in all, treatment lasted five months, but the experience at GBMC will stay with Alicia forever.

“I tell everyone where I went and about the team,” Alicia said.

Support The Sandra & Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute and patients like Alicia, donate here.

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