Yvette Pritchett’s breast cancer diagnosis in February 2015 helped her realize how many true friends she had. She also learned new friends can be made in the midst of adversity in the most unlikely of places: a hospital.
“Friends came out of the woodwork and showered me with unexpected blessings,” Pritchett said. “Not only did I feel the love of all my beautiful friends and family, but I also experienced so much love and friendship from the doctors, nurses and everyone else involved in my cancer care.”
Pritchett, 46, a branch manager for Charter Bank, learned she had breast cancer after a routine mammogram in January 2015 at the Women’s Health Center at WellStar West Georgia Medical Center. After a radiologist detected a potential abnormality, she followed up with a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy.
“I really didn’t come too undone in those weeks,” Pritchett said. “But I remember after the ultrasound, I didn’t yet know it was cancer and sat in my car for about 45 minutes and just cried. It was a potential threat to my life, and I was thinking, ‘What about my children? What about my job? What about my nieces?’”
Her fears of a cancer diagnosis were confirmed on Feb. 16, when she met with Dr. Ashley Stewart at West Georgia Surgery.
“I sat in her office, and she was so warm and so caring, but she said she had to be straightforward with me,” Pritchett said. “She said, ‘I know this might be the worst day of your life,’ but looking back, I’d had worse days. I wonder if maybe those days were God’s building blocks to prepare me for this.”
Dr. Stewart told Pritchett she had infiltrating ductile carcinoma in her right breast. Pritchett tested positive for human epidermal growth factor receptor (HER2), a protein which promotes the growth of cancer cells.
“HER2-positive breast cancer tends to be more aggressive and to spread more quickly than other cancers,” Pritchett said. “Dr. Stewart was very reassuring and suggested that we attack it hard because of the rapidly producing cells.”
Pritchett’s options, Dr. Stewart told her, were a lumpectomy, single mastectomy or bilateral mastectomy. Before making her decision, Pritchett met with Dr. Mel Stewart, a reconstructive surgeon with Advanced Aesthetics, and Dr. Wassim Mchayleh, medical director and oncologist at WellStar West Georgia Medical Center.
“I really wanted to make an informed decision, and ultimately I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction,” she said.
Dr. Ashley Stewart performed Pritchett’s mastectomy on March 25, followed by reconstructive surgery with Dr. Mel Stewart.
“When you’re going through something as difficult as a cancer diagnosis, it might be hard for some people to understand what good someone can see in that experience,” Pritchett said. “I already knew by the time of my surgery how wonderful my friends and family could be, I knew how great my doctors were, and when I was recovering from surgery at the hospital, I was able to feel the love from everyone else at the hospital.
“It wasn’t just the doctors and nurses. I felt care and concern even from the people who came to my room with my food, the ones who came to clean my room. They didn’t know me, but they just showed me such love, courtesy and respect.”
She recalled a Facebook post Dr. Ashley Stewart wrote her: “I have treated a number of cancers, but I have never felt more secure about a good outcome as I have for you. Your attitude and outlook are so beautiful, what could possibly beat you? Let me be the first to tell you: a positive outlook and unshakeable faith is everything.”
After surgery and reconstruction, Pritchett began six chemotherapy treatments in April at West Georgia Medical Center along with 52 treatments of Herceptin®, an antibody that combats the HER2 protein.
Her chemo treatments lasted 5 to 6 hours each time. She was surrounded by her support group after each treatment. Her mother, Marjorie Knipp, and Pritchett's daughter, Chandler, 16, took turns accompanying her to treatments. Pritchett's son, Cooper, 11, would make sure she was tucked in her blanket tight while she recovered from each of her treatments.
In Ambulatory Infusion, Pritchett said she developed strong relationships with the nurses and doctors and that it was a bittersweet moment when she finished chemo.
“I’m friends with all the nurses now,” Pritchett said, “and I miss getting to see them. My mom reminds me that even though my chemo is over, I can still stop by Ambulatory Infusion to visit.”
She also said she loved how thorough and caring Dr. Mchayleh was in explaining her course of treatment to her.
“What touched me is that when my mother was there with me, Dr. Mchayleh talked as much to her about my care as he did with me,” Pritchett said. “He was concerned about her feelings and genuinely wanted her to feel comfortable and make sure she was just as informed as I was. And when my daughter came with me, he did the same for her.”
Pritchett said some of her friends asked her, “Wouldn’t it be better if you went to Atlanta to be treated?”
“I tell them I’ve been over-the-top happy with the care I received, and it was only a 10-minute drive from my house,” she said. “From the first mammogram, I could feel their genuine concern and saw how they chose each word so meticulously because they cared and respected me. And now, I’m actually missing going to chemo because I developed such strong friendships there.”
Pritchett said the cancer care team and others at West Georgia Medical Center “treated me way better than just a patient.”
“It could be my perception due to the big emotional event that was 2015,” she said, “but I feel pretty sure everyone I've dealt with on a regular basis there has given me a little piece of their heart.”