When Vernice Grossglass was told she had breast cancer, her first thought was, It ain't me, babe. "I was in shock, disbelief," Vernice says. "I thought, 'No, she's got the wrong person.'" Once she accepted the diagnosis, her thoughts turned to her son and the future. "I want to see him married," she says. "There's just so much for me to still see and do."
Vernice shared that story with Action News Jax at the recent Mayo Clinic Sailing to Hope Survivorship breakfast, designed to give breast cancer patients and survivors the opportunity to connect. "That's a big part of the healing process," Vernice tells the station. "Just talking helps you be at peace." Susan Kane, a breast cancer nurse navigator, agrees that connecting with others is good medicine. "This is what we do," Kane tells First Coast News. "We hang together, and each one of us are life rafts and we can help each other. That's what the team at Mayo Clinic is here to do."
That team includes Saranya Chumsri, M.D., an oncologist who attended the event. One way Dr. Chumsri hopes to help is by reminding people of the importance of early detection. That's a message that resonates well with Vernice, who was diagnosed after finding a lump herself. "Do your self-breast examination," she says. "I did my own before my annual mammogram. That's how I found it."
In addition to early diagnosis, Dr. Chumsri also emphasizes the importance of finishing treatment. She tells Action News Jax that "some studies show less than half of breast cancer patients complete the last phase of treatment" — a hormone blocker pill that's meant to be taken for five years. It's an important part of the treatment plan, Dr. Chumsri says, as it can help prevent cancer from coming back.
That's something all cancer patients want, including Vernice, who is now cancer-free. But she's not done fighting the disease. She's taking part in one of Dr. Chumsri's research projects, which is working to develop a vaccine to cure or prevent breast cancer. "It's supposed to stimulate a patient's own immune response so that the immune cells … would go in and attack the cancer," Dr. Chumsri tells First Coast News.
That may sound too good to be true. But Dr. Chumsri's colleague, Keith Knutson, Ph.D., tells Forbes that the research is promising and may benefit patients like Vernice in the very near future. "It is reasonable to say that we could have a vaccine within eight years that may be available to patients through their pharmacy or their doctor," Dr. Knutson says. That sounds like sailing toward hope to us.
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