Published on July 15, 2013

Fighting an uncommon cancer

An aggressive approach to treating breast cancer in African-American women.

Angela BecklesWhat began as a trip to attend a family wedding turned into the journey of a lifetime for Angela Beckles.

Traveling to Philadelphia from her home in Barbados, Angela stayed with her mother. During her visit, she told her mother about discomfort in one of her breasts that seemed to come and go. Her mother insisted she have it checked out and took her to the Mercy Fitzgerald Emergency Room.

Because of Mercy Fitzgerald’s unique nurse navigator program—where a nurse is assigned to all potential cancer patients—nurse Joy Hepkins was able to set up an appointment for Angela with fellowship-trained breast surgeon Archit Naik, MD, the very next day.

“I was lucky to get an appointment with Dr. Naik, who confirmed that it was a cyst,” Angela recalls. “He thought the best course of action was to remove it. He expected it to be benign, but took a little extra breast tissue to send for more testing.”

Angela gave permission for the test results to be shared with her mother and returned to Barbados. Her mother called her a few days later: The news was not good. She had triple negative breast cancer, which does not respond to hormonal therapy. Angela began to plan for treatment, and from the start, her plan included returning to Mercy.

“I was impressed with the Mercy Cancer Center,” she says. “I was fortunate that my employer gave me six months’ leave. I wanted to come back to Mercy.”

Angela began chemotherapy, followed by surgery to remove whatever was left of the tumor, and finally radiation treatment. With some of the chemo, she suffered nausea and vomiting, joint pain, and numbness in her fingers and toes. Her tastes for food changed. She cried when she lost her hair. But she never lost her spirit.

“I had a positive attitude from the beginning,” she says. “I believed I would get better and I would do everything I could to get better.”

Finding the Right Answer

Her doctors never gave up fighting, either. The multidisciplinary approach to care at Mercy Cancer Center ensured that a personalized treatment plan was developed.

“I presented the case to the multidisciplinary breast team and we discussed options,” says Dr. Naik. “The patient is always better served when we get other opinions.”

Eugene Choi, MD, a hematologist/oncologist, was struck by the fact that Angela was only 49 at the time of her diagnosis. She turned 50 during her treatment.

“We were taken aback by that,” Dr. Choi says. “She had a lot of life in front of her.”

He describes Angela’s chemo regimen as “very aggressive,” which is what her type of cancer required.

“Cancer is a heterogeneous disease,” says Dr. Choi. “One woman’s breast cancer is so different from another’s. That’s why every breast cancer patient at Mercy Cancer Center receives a personalized plan of treatment.
Usha Babaria, MD, radiation oncologist, agrees that therapy is tailored to each patient’s needs.

“Angela was very involved in her care,” says Dr. Babaria. “She knew what was being done and why.”

Since her diagnosis, Angela learned that the cancer she had is becoming more common and more aggressive in women of West African descent. She is making sure her three daughters are aware and is also sharing her experience with others.

“This has been the biggest trial of my life,” she says. “At Mercy, I got excellent care and support at every stage. I thank God every day for this second chance at life.”

Get Screened Today

Maybe you’ve heard the excuses … maybe you’ve made an excuse: “I don’t have time.” “I’ll go next year.” “There’s no breast cancer in my family.” But with breast cancer, what you don’t know can kill you.

  • Mammography can often identify breast cancer a year or two before it is felt by a healthcare provider.
  • That’s why mammograms at Mercy Fitzgerald use an advanced digital format for a clear image and the most accurate results.
  • Along with regular screening mammograms, breast self-exams at home are a good way to find changes in your breast that could signal a problem.