Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Times Leader’s print edition in October, 2020. It was scheduled to appear online at that time, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but for technical reasons did not.
Hearing a breast cancer diagnosis at any time is a traumatic life experience. For Fatima Perez, that news came amid this year’s COVID-19 pandemic.
The Wayne County resident’s treatment and consultations included a mix of in-person and telemedicine interactions.
In Perez’s case, consulting with her Geisinger surgeon, Dr. Tim Farrell, and care team by telemedicine prior to surgery actually enabled Perez to bring three critical members of her support network into the conversation — her daughters, who are spread across the country, in Pennsylvania, New York and California — and reduced the need to visit the hospital at a time when concerns about COVID-19 were running high for everyone.
“It really worked well,” Perez said Thursday. “That, to me, was a blessing.”
Farrell agreed that the encounter was beneficial to Perez’s successful treatment.
“She was one of the earliest patients we saw via telemedicine” during the pandemic, Farrell said. “She was on her laptop, I was on mine. We covered everything short of the physical exam.”
“Fatima had a great attitude,” Farrell added. “That helps a lot.”
Indeed, Perez, 65, said she has regularly scheduled mammograms since her 30s, eats well, and says she “takes care of herself.”
“My husband calls me a doctor’s dream,” Perez said.
She had undergone a mammogram about six months prior to discovering a lump this March, and that came back negative.
But then, at the end of March, she felt something. Initially she was not concerned.
“A week later it got bigger,” Perez recalled.
She consulted with her physician, and another mammogram was scheduled for April 20. The results led doctors to recommend a biopsy.
“It was cancer in my right breast,” Perez said.
The telemedicine consultation followed that diagnosis, as Perez and her care team prepared for surgery in June.
As noted, the format enabled Perez’s daughters to take part in their mother’s care plan.
“The girls had a lot of questions,” she said.
Perez underwent a lumpectomy at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scanton on June 4, followed by radiation beginning in July, and completed in August.
So far, Perez said, “everything looks good.”
Her care team told Perez that she found the cancer in its early stages, and did the right thing by seeking medical advice.
She has nothing but praise for the team, from Farrell to the anesthesiologist and nurses.
“They talked to me through it … and were all very kind to me,” Perez said.
Farrell said new virtual consultation options have become more popular with patients — initially because of COVID concerns, but also as they see how it can be effective and convenient.
“I think patients in general are concerned about coming into the office,” he said.
More than that, though, he said the ability to engage in a private consultation without having to travel, especially for those, like Perez, who lives 30 miles away from Geisinger CMC.
“A home visit is a home visit,” Farrell said.