A Medtronic employee aims to raise awareness about breast cancer treatment.
At the base of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains sits a tiny lake where Cathy Eshelman goes to recharge.
It’s just a short walk from her home, but a million miles from the pressures of everyday life.
“It’s so beautiful here,” Cathy said. “My mom talks to me a lot out here.”
Cathy and her mom were best of friends. They often spent time together, until Pat Eshelman lost her 17-year battle with breast cancer.
“She said in no uncertain terms — and with absolute determination — ‘get a mastectomy,’” Cathy said. “Because she did not.”
So when Cathy got the call confirming a lesion in her own breast, before she even knew whether it was cancer, the decision was made.
“I said, ‘I’m getting a mastectomy. I don’t care if you don’t know what it is, I’m doing it because I am going to be in control of my body and I’m going to take control of this and cancer is not,’” Cathy said.
Tests would later confirm the lesion was cancer.
Cathy then embarked on the biggest research project of her life. She was surprised to learn, for instance, there was more than one kind of mastectomy.
“I would not have heard about it had I not read the article,” Cathy said.
At work just one day before the diagnosis, Cathy, an eight-and-a-half-year Medtronic employee, read a story in a Medtronic e-newsletter about Suzanne Foster, VP and General Manager of Medtronic’s Advanced Energy business.
The story detailed Foster’s own battle with breast cancer and a procedure called a “nipple sparing mastectomy,” something even Cathy’s doctors didn’t know much about.
“I remember being absolutely blown away and shocked that there were so many decisions I had to make,” Cathy said. “And I didn’t have enough information to make those decisions.”
Cathy reached out to Foster, who immediately put her in touch with Dr. Beth DuPree, a surgeon at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Philadelphia and one of the world’s leading surgical experts on nipple sparing mastectomy. (Dr. DuPree also has a consulting relationship with Medtronic).
It’s a very difficult and intricate operation, and DuPree found that a Medtronic tool called the Peak PlasmaBlade® helped give her the surgical precision she needed.
“The very first time that I used it on a nipple sparing mastectomy, I told my OR director that I could never do this operation again without this device,” DuPree said.
In nipple-sparing mastectomy procedures, rather than removing the entire breast, surgeons take out the underlying breast tissue, saving the outer skin and nipple, and then reconstructing the breast. It’s a far less invasive and disfiguring surgery, and improves what Dr. DuPree calls “survivorship” for patients like Cathy.
“It is a significant improvement because what it allows us to do is adequately treat the cancer, which is first and foremost. But also gives the patient the opportunity to wake up even the day after surgery and look down and see something that looks familiar, not something that looks foreign,” DuPree said.
Within weeks of the surgery, Cathy says she felt like her old self. She quilts in her spare time, something she did often with her mother. And despite the trauma of a cancer diagnosis, she says she feels blessed at how it turned out.
“This particular procedure leaves you feeling whole,” Cathy said. “It truly leaves you feeling like you never had cancer.”
Always a private woman, Cathy has come away from the experience determined to help others.
“I had access to so many people and so much information; not all women do,” she said. “I’m on a mission to help women become more aware of their options, and in order to do that I have to talk about it.”
As for advice, she says it’s critical for patients to let others help them out.
“It’s very humbling to ask people to drop their lives to take care of you. But you need them to help you. It means a lot, and through this whole thing I’ve never in my life ever felt prayed for so strongly. I actually felt it. It was an amazing feeling.”
Cathy believes stepping out to publicly share her story is what her mother would have wanted her to do.
“I feel like I’m doing the right thing,” she said. “I feel like this is what she wants me to do. So I do it.”
Important Safety Information
The therapy discussed in this story is not for everyone. Please consult your physician.
The PEAK Surgery System is indicated for cutting and coagulation of soft tissue during General, Plastic and Reconstructive (including but not limited to skin incisions and development of skin flaps), ENT, Gynecologic, Orthopaedic, Arthroscopic, Spinal and Neurological procedures.
The PEAK PlasmaBlade should not be used on small appendages or body parts, as in circumcision.
Learn more about nipple sparing mastectomy.