Breast cancer journeys different for every woman

Sanford Bemidji's entire oncology team works together to develop treatment plans to fit each patient's specific needs both medically and emotionally.

Breast cancer journeys different for every woman

Initially, Charlene Siddens was not overly concerned when she first discovered the lump in her breast.

“I actually thought that because I breastfed for 50 months that it would save me. I never had a mammogram. I was 45 when I found the lump,” she said. Charlene is not sure where she heard such a notion, but at the time she truly believed breastfeeding would protect her. But in July 2015, she learned it wasn’t true.

“I went in to the clinic and kind of knew that it was cancer,” Charlene said. “After my mammogram, the technician told me the lump was fibrous.”

Team approach

Not only did she have breast cancer, but she also was triple positive for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and HER2.

Then, the entire Sanford oncology team – including medical oncologists, the radiation oncologists, the surgeons, the genetic counselors, the plastic surgeons and the primary care doctors – worked with each other to develop a treatment plan just for Charlene.

“Charlene is a good example of needing to fashion the treatment not only for where the disease is, but also where the emotional state is,” said Dr. Mark Claussen, Sanford surgeon.

As each patient comes into the process with varied understanding of what cancer is and how it can be treated, it is important the medical team work with each other and the patient to develop a treatment plan.

“Having a real team approach where people are communicating well with each other is essential in this day and age to getting good care,” Dr. Claussen said.

Treatment plan

At first, Charlene was only going to have a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. But due to scheduling, she couldn’t have the surgery for three weeks, which was too long to wait. Charlene’s medical team advised her to undergo a year of chemotherapy and then the mastectomy, but she initially rejected that plan because of deep-seated fears about chemo. But Dr. Claussen reminded her to think of the chemo timeframe as just one small piece of a much longer lifespan and she, in turn, thought about her young granddaughter.

“I want to be around for her and to see my daughter, Tia, retire from the Navy,” Charlene said. Charlene’s medical team identified a path through which she could undergo the mastectomy first, followed by chemo.

“I’m really proud of how well we work with each other,” Dr. Claussen said. “I think it’s something we can offer here in our small-town setting better than you can in a larger metro area. We’re all here, all in one place. The people I need to talk to are down the hall, not across the city.”

Charlene had surgery to remove her chemo port and then returned to work. Even her hair returned, came in a bit thicker than before.

Donations make a difference

Generous donors to the Sanford Bemidji Cancer Center make a difference in the lives of patients, like Charlene, by helping ensure compassionate, state-of-the-art care is available close to home.

Care Without Limits is a new campaign to bring together, in Bemidji, the very best cancer care, from experts to diagnostics to treatment options and survivorship, in one location.

To learn more about Care Without Limits or to make a gift, please visit

Posted In Cancer, Cancer Screenings, Cancer Treatments, Foundation, Health Information, Imaging, Women's