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Military spouse underwent breast cancer treatment in two countries during the pandemic

By SEAN FLYNN | Newport Daily News, R.I. | Published: October 12, 2020

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NEWPORT, R.I. (Tribune News Service) — Going through breast cancer treatment is difficult enough, but doing it in two different countries, much of it during a pandemic, is exponentially harder.

That is what Sandra Broomfield did, though.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer at a hospital in Stuttgart, Germany, on Nov. 12, 2019.

"I'll never forget that date," she said. "There were no symptoms. It was an annual mammogram. When I received the bad news, it was quite a shock."

She had a lumpectomy on Dec. 3, a surgery to remove a small tumor of less than three-quarters of inches in diameter. A mastectomy removes the entire breast, but that was thankfully not necessary.

The cancer was caught early and she was diagnosed with Stage 1B breast cancer. The tumor was local, but was connected to the breast lymph node, which required both chemotherapy and radiation.

"At first it was supposed to be only radiation, but then they added on the chemotherapy," Broomfield said.

She had a six-month course of chemotherapy in Germany beginning the first week of January, a regimen that removed all her hair. After that, it was estimated she would have to undergo about two months of radiation.

Broomfield decided to tell her story because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. One in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life.

"I just hope someone reads this article and gets checked because finding this early was so lucky for me," she said.

Broomfield is married to Navy Cmdr. Charles Broomfield, who was stationed at the European Command Headquarters in Stuttgart at the time of the diagnosis. They left Stuttgart in July this year after his three-year tour of duty and now live in the Point section of town behind Cardines Field.

"We were supposed to move here in the middle of March, but because of COVID the military issued a general stop movement, which meant we couldn't move," Sandra said. "We were stuck."

"Moving in the military while undergoing cancer treatment is hard," Charlie said. "You throw in COVID and it made it 10 times harder."

Donna Riess, the TRICARE liaison at the Navy Clinic in Newport, contacted them in Germany and they began planning a transition of Sandra's care through the Lifespan Cancer Institute that is based at all of Lifespan's hospitals, including Newport Hospital.

They landed in the U.S. on July 9, just days after the last chemotherapy treatment was completed in Stuttgart.

"In coordination with Newport Hospital and the Lifespan Cancer Institute, we were able to see the radiation specialist up in Providence on July 14, which was blindingly fast and kept her treatment on schedule," Charlie said.

Dr. David Wazer, head of the Lifespan Cancer Institute, met with them. "He was very attentive, listened, and made sure everything was perfect," Sandra said.

Dr. Don Dizon was the oncologist who managed Broomfield's care, which included 19 sessions of radiation spaced over four weeks at Lifespan's Rhode Island Hospital. The radiation was not available in Newport.

"When she came here, we had to review the pathology of her breast surgery in Germany," Dizon said. He communicated with the German oncologist making sure he had all the information to assess her treatment going forward.

"To uproot in the middle of cancer care is very disconcerting," Dizon said. "We moved very quickly — it was great to work with her."

Dr. Julia Tassinari, a breast surgeon and associate director of the breast cancer multidisciplinary clinic at Newport Hospital, was part of the team that cared for Broomfield after receiving the medical records from Germany.

Broomfield needed to have a chemotherapy port removed to get her off of blood thinners. "I had that done in Newport Hospital," she said.

She also required a bone density scan in connection with the hormone therapy that involved Newport Hospital doctors.

"It's been a team of expertise that attacked her problem and solved it," Charlie said.

"It's been seamless the way everyone interacted with each other," Sandra said.

"For me what was really helpful was that every doctor I went to see had all my information," she said. "That made it easy."

Lifespan's LifeChart system includes all electronic medical records, such as doctors' visits and procedures involving the patient.

"It was nice to be able not to explain myself every time, saying what this doctor or that doctor did," she said. "Everything was there in front of them."

"I am done with all my treatments, except for the hormone therapy," Sandra said Thursday.

The therapy will suppress her estrogen for the next five years. "My cancer was estrogen fed," she said.

The worst is behind her, though. "I am overjoyed," she said. "It's been a long nine months. It's terrifying and the treatment is not easy."

The Broomfields have two daughters, a 25-year-old in the Navy and a 21-year-old student at Johnson & Wales University.

They have decided their traveling days are over.

When the commander is no longer teaching at the Naval War College, he said he would work at a civilian job in the area.

"I was born in Providence in 1970 and never thought I would want to spend my post-military days and retirement in the state," he said. "Now I'm committed. I love it here. This is home."

"We want to stay in Newport now, we love it," Sandra said.

sflynn@newportri.com

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