(PHOENIX - Oct. 23, 2023) A young woman was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in July after qualifying for a new, high-risk breast cancer screening program available in Phoenix’s Park Central mall called Breastlink, a joint venture between Dignity Health Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s and Arizona Diagnostic Radiology.
Jenny Elig, 45, says she always had a feeling breast cancer might be in her cards due to a strong family history, so she scheduled her first annual mammogram at a community imaging center earlier this spring.
The screening revealed a finding in her right breast that required a follow-up ultrasound and a second mammogram. Her primary care physician also sent a referral for Elig to meet with Lisa WintonLi, MD, a breast cancer surgeon at Dignity Health Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s, who leads the new Breastlink clinic alongside an expert team from Arizona Diagnostic Radiology.
“The ultrasound and second mammogram showed the spots in my right breast were just calcifications and needed to be watched. I thought seeing Dr. WintonLi in July was just another safeguard,” recalls Elig. “But, she was concerned about my family history and had a sense of urgency. She was extremely clear and supportive from the start. I can’t speak highly enough of her.”
Dr. WintonLi escalated Elig’s case to Breastlink’s high-risk program because of her family history and the calcifications found in her right breast. Women in the high-risk program are recommended to have alternating mammograms and breast MRIs every six months. The new Breastlink program proved pivotal in Elig’s early diagnosis and treatment.
“I was scheduled for a breast MRI on July 17, just ten days after I first met with Dr. WintonLi,” Elig says. “The day after the MRI, I got a call to schedule a biopsy for a finding in my left breast. On July 21, I learned I had invasive ductal carcinoma.”
Invasive ductal carcinoma is the most common type of breast cancer, accounting for about 75 percent of all breast cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. In Elig’s case, her tumor was caught exceptionally early thanks to advanced screenings at the Breastlink clinic.
“Jenny’s breast cancer wasn’t felt under the skin and it wasn’t something that could be seen on the surface. We only caught it by an MRI because she was high-risk and started screenings when her primary care provider recommended it,” Dr. WintonLi says. “This played a crucial role in developing a plan of care that fit her needs.”
In just a month’s time, Elig had met with all of the appropriate cancer specialists at Dignity Health Cancer Institute at St. Joseph’s, including a nurse navigator, a medical oncologist and radiation oncologist, to fully understand what all of her treatment options could be.
“I never felt pressured to make one choice over another when it came to my treatment. I felt listened to and well-educated. In the end being so well-informed helped me make a decision quickly. I was confident in my decision to move forward with a mastectomy. The path was clear, and I could plan more easily,” says Elig, a former Indiana journalist, and current instructional designer who resides with her partner in Tempe. Shortly before her breast cancer diagnosis, Elig earned her master's degree in Learning Design and Technologies from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University in December 2022.
On August 23, Dr. WintonLi started Elig’s staged approach by performing a partial mastectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy while Dignity Health Medical Group plastic surgeon, Joshua Nelson, MD, completed a bilateral breast reduction, the first of two procedures for Elig, at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Luckily, the lumpectomy confirmed only a small, 0.8 centimeter tumor with clear margins. Elig’s final procedure is scheduled for this December and will include a bilateral nipple sparing mastectomy and completion of her reconstruction.
“My journey with breast cancer isn’t over,” says Elig. “But I am hopeful that breast cancer will be in my rear-view mirror by mid-December – just in time for my birthday.”
Elig encourages women to take the screening recommendations that are right for them seriously, and not to put them off due to busy lifestyles.
“Following recommended screenings, knowing your risk factors, and doing what you can to prevent breast cancer is incredibly important for all women,” Dr. WintonLi echoes.