Symposium focuses on breast cancer treatments, emotional side

Shannon Tebben–Sandoval

It’s been seven years since Chris Morgan was diagnosed with breast cancer, and nearly six and a half since she received her last treatment.

“We’re very lucky to be here, because there’s parts of the country where they have to (drive) hours for treatment. We are very fortunate to have what we have here,” Morgan said.

Just two weeks after her diagnosis, Morgan underwent surgery and was part of a clinical trial that was testing a new procedure in which radioactive dye is used to help identify cancer cells and cut down on the number of lymph nodes that are removed from the breast.

Morgan said that procedure is considered a standard treatment today — just one example of how fast technology is moving in the effort to diagnose and treat breast cancer.

That’s why more than 250 healthcare professionals from around the world gathered in East Peoria, Ill., this week for a two-day symposium to learn about the latest advancements and options for treating women like Morgan.

The third annual Breast Cancer Symposium is a joint effort between the Department of Surgery at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Peoria Memorial Affiliate. The symposium was also funded in part by donations from local hospitals and individuals.

Dr. John Murray of Illinois Plastic Surgery has chaired the event each of its three years and said this year’s symposium had the largest number of attendees yet.

The doctors, nurses, physician assistants, radiological technicians and other professionals will hear presentations from 22 different people while covering topics like handling complex cases, the role of hormonal influences in breast cancer, the use of MRI in the detection of breast cancer, surgical treatment options and the emotional side of breast cancer from a patient’s perspective. Presenters have come from places like Sweden, Oregon, Chicago and St. Louis.

“The breast cancer research and clinical management moves very quickly, and so this symposium is meant to disseminate the latest information regarding research and management of breast cancer as a definitive regional source for that information,” Murray said. “At the completion of the symposium, they should be more well-educated in those specific areas ... to improve health care delivery regarding breast cancer.”

Morgan and another breast cancer survivor, Karen Welch, were both at the symposium volunteering their time to help run the registration table. Both women have helped at the event for each of its three years and say they’ve seen it grow in both the scope of the information presented and the number of people attending.

“We know they’re learning something that’s going to be able to help us and ladies down the road,” Welch said.

Welch has been a breast cancer survivor for nearly 30 years and said that when she was diagnosed, the disease was not well understood or supported. That’s why she volunteers not just at the symposium, but also as a mentor to help women cope with breast cancer treatment.

“We feel that if we could just help one lady, to give her peace of mind and help her get through this trying time, it’s very rewarding for us,” Welch said.

“Unfortunately, we can still get it back,” Morgan said. “There’s not a 100 percent cure for it, so we just hope and keep praying they find more and more things (in research). There’s something new each year, there’s more research out and there’s more things they find that are working.”

Both Welch and Morgan feel strongly that women should get annual mammograms by age 40 and do regular self-exams. They also say they are both examples of why early detection and early treatment are critically important.

“I know before I was diagnosed I would always say, ‘I’ll do that when I retire,’” Welch said. “When I was diagnosed I thought, ‘I’m going to do it now.’”

Morgan agreed that the experience of breast cancer changes a person forever.

“I enjoy life every day and I don’t let the small things bug me anymore,” she said. “I’m proud to be a survivor and I don’t mind helping out (at the symposium) at all.”