Erin Scheithe and Colette Magnant
DescriptionErin Scheithe (37), patient of Dr. Colette Magnant discuss their physician-patient relationship, a rare cancer diagnosis, and the importance of genetic testing.
Subject Log / Time Code
- Erin Scheithe
- Colette Magnant
Recording LocationSibley Memorial Hospital
Partnership TypeFee for Service
StoryCorps uses Google Cloud Speech-to-Text and Natural Language API to provide machine-generated transcripts. Transcripts have not been checked for accuracy and may contain errors. Learn more about our FAQs through our Help Center or do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you have any questions.
00:03 My name is Erin shyti. I'm 37 years old. Today is May 8th 2018. And I'm at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington DC and I am sitting here speaking with my breast surgeon doctor magnet.
00:22 Hi, my name is Colette magnant and I'm of unknown age. Today's date is May 8th 2018. I'm at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington DC. And I'm sitting here talking to Aaron Chaffee. Who is my patient of a few years.
00:44 I think I'm going to ask Aaron a few questions first and just just so we can kind of get things rolling. But Aaron can you tell me about your original diagnosis your initial diagnosis what happened? So a couple of days before my 34th birthday, I was doing my monthly breast self-exam and I found a lump that I had not felt before and I immediately knew that it was breast cancer. Well and so I was very scared in that moment. I was
01:22 Staying at a friend's house my best friend who's a nurse. So I made her feel it and she felt the same way and things went pretty quickly from then I had my first mammogram. I had a biopsy and that biopsy actually came back negative at first it was only after I pushed for further testing because I felt the lump in my breast grow from the time that I found it until I finally had it removed by you Doctor magnet, you know, I remember a bit about it too. I mean, I remember the exact story because I remember you came to see me and you said, you know this lump, you know, they say it's benign, but it it's it's growing and you know, you need to take it out basically is what you told me and I said, don't worry. I'm going to take it out, but it was just dumb. Yammy. You did have the benign diagnosis and just have
02:22 How to breast cancer next to it and you knew in your heart of hearts what was going on and I really feel like something led me to you when I talked to my gynecologist and said the slump is growing. Can you referred me to a breast surgeon? She said yes, call Doctor Magna but don't tell them that you've had a biopsy on the lump because they're only taking patients with cancer and you don't have cancer and I remember thinking but I know I do have cancer and so I called and asked to schedule an appointment with you and the lovely person on the phone said have you had any Imaging or any biopsies?
03:12 And I can't lie. So I said yes and she said what was it and I said it was benign and she said we'll see you on November 11th, and I thought thank goodness because I just know that I needed to have it out. And then I remember when we talked about it. You said I think it's probably fine. But let's take it out. Right and you know, it's it's it's always strikes me that patients will say to me and I wouldn't know something if I wouldn't know something was abnormal on my breast exam, you know, if it reached out and bit me but patients do know and they do feel things and they feel like they're hard or there's something about him that just doesn't feel right to them and. So, you know, what's good that you wouldn't had an and did that and then you had a along kind of protracted course of of treatment that maybe you can tell
04:12 Tell us about I did the first thing we did was the lumpectomy to remove the lump and that's when I knew that things were serious because after the surgery you came by and you said you did great. I'll talk to you in a couple of days.
04:30 And I remember my best friend. Who's the nurse we both looked at each other and I said, I think she's going to call me in a couple of days and tell me that I do have breast cancer and my best friend said yeah, she would be able to tell from just removing it and I felt like you gave me that kind of luck and then you called me and asked me to come in and I was on a business trip. I learned that from you when I was on a break from sessions on a business trip and things went pretty quickly from there and we did genetic testing because I was only 34, right and the type of breast cancer that I had was triple negative and maybe you can tell me a little bit more about what that means. I mean triple negative breast cancer is usually a grade 3, which means it's the most aggressive type of breast cancer we all
05:30 Can see it in your younger women and it what it means is that it doesn't respond to estrogen. It doesn't respond to Progesterone to either of those two hormones. It's not depending on growth and it doesn't have a protein. We call her two new in it. So the only treatment we really have Ford is surgery radiation and chemotherapy. We can't use any of any of the hormonal blockers like tamoxifen or Arimidex or any of those other medications to to take care of it and keep it from coming back. So if I had known it was a triple negative breast cancer before I took it out.
06:11 Then if the biopsy had been positive the needle biopsy then we probably would have started you on chemotherapy first actually, but it was you know what that point. We just wanted to take it out make a diagnosis and go from there and you know, usually I try to give people an idea about what I think it is at the time of surgery because it would take so I think a few days in your ear and you do really well and you
06:41 Are very very good about I mean you're resilient. So I think you know to me you're very resilient and I think what happens is is that you you decide what you need to do and go ahead and do it. No matter how frightened you are. I'm sure and so you you know, I I knew that you wanted to know what was going on and at the time of the surgery, I didn't know exactly but I had my suspicions because it was so hard and that's why I left but I like to get all the pathology back so I can tell you exactly where we're going to go from here when you come in and I think what was so interesting to me is and what set off kind of this domino effect in my family. Is that because I had that triple negative type of breast cancer. We did genetic testing and we found very surprisingly to me that I am PRC.
07:41 A1 positive braca one positive. So I finally had something in common with Angelina Jolie but my mom is an ovarian cancer survivor and had been tested for the braca gene as well. As for many other different kinds of hereditary Cancers and came back clean as a whistle. So I inherited this Jean from my father's side and that was just so weird. My dad died almost 20 years ago, and we just had no idea that that was on his side of the family.
08:21 So I started talking to my aunt his sister and she said, you know, we did have I had a cousin who had breast cancer Before 40 and then we found out there were about four or five women in my family on that side. And we actually found out that both my aunt and my sister were also bracha one positive and so they have parents had preventive mastectomy and hysterectomy. And so I think you know, this was actually a really positive experience. It was hard it was so positive because it it just led to all these other discoveries and end the thing is is that you know in in going ahead and doing the testing it and sharing it with your family and telling them what what was going on with you and that you had this braca one mutation. Are you probably you know, you kept her sister.
09:21 Hopefully from having breast cancer from ever having breast cancer. And that's you know, that's a huge gift to her. God knows I mean and and I know it was really hard on you and you know, you never think about this braca new people just don't think about it day in and day out. I mean, I see people that they're even their mother will have breast cancer ovarian cancer and then there and then you know, there are several family members will have breast cancer and they just never even think about being tested. Now. You just didn't know and you were young and you didn't know and but I think that it would it's really important to get that out that that there are these hereditary.
10:06 Syndromes where people get these cancers pretty early on in their Prime of life and it would it's good to there are things we can do to try to prevent these cancers or at least lower the risk of yes, absolutely. And I know that it's really personal decision to decide. I'm going to remove both of my breasts which I did and my ovaries and Fallopian tubes, which I also did but I went through the treatment and it was no picnic it was it was incredibly difficult and so my sister and my aunt sing me go through that process, they knew they never wanted to have to do that. And so it was a gift it was and my sister has two children. And so I thought I would thank God I got it and not her so that we can
11:03 You know, I I I was kind of the the path of least resistance in a way. I was single I had a great job with really great health insurance a really really supportive network of family and friends and so though it was difficult. I also kind of sailed through it on an emotional level at least
11:28 I have said this before, but I really hope.
11:32 That everyone gets to know how much people like them like you do when you have a serious illness. I hope you get a find out a different way. I was sick. I just had so much love and support around me that it was actually pretty pretty tolerable to get through. And so I just knew that if I could do it so that my sister didn't have to so that my niece's don't have to send my day, but my aunt didn't have to that meant the world to me.
12:07 That's a man that's amazing cuz you really are resilient because you know, a lot of people, you know in your age group wouldn't first of all wouldn't be so altruistic about it for sure. And and the other thing is is that it's it's just amazing that you can you can look at the positive side of it, you know, and I think you know, I've often watch people over the last thirty two years while I've been practicing surgery and thought that they developed this kind of Zen when they're going through all this treatment and they kind of changed their lives to some degree and kind of figure out what's important and redo their priorities in many ways, I think and I thought you probably did that too. I did absolutely and I was a very ambitious very busy person before I lived for my job with a great job. I lived for it. I
13:07 And a ton of time doing things that now I don't do as much as I change jobs. I have a work-life balance. That's totally different than I did before I was sick and I really just spend my time doing the things that I want to do and that will help either myself or someone else. Right and I'm always really excited to share my story so that hopefully someone else will start doing monthly check-ins and what their breasts or will do genetic testing or you know, it's so easy to do now even three and a half years ago when I was going through my diagnosis, it wasn't as easy to find out if you had one of these genetic cancers are genetic mutations. So it's just a totally different life, right?
14:06 What kind of nice because I have a lot more free time and I know people and my dogs enjoy having me home or I'm sure they do, you know, it's funny because you don't look at the whole Angelina Jolie story and think that she's crazy, you know, and and I think that you know, luckily that sort of brought to light genetic testing but like you said, there's so many other genes now that we test people for on and I have a patient recently that who's had two sisters died of breast cancer and you know before when we thought it was just braca 1 and bracket. Ooh, she got tested for those they were negative. And but now we have all these other genes that we want to test people for that. If you have that family history or really important and it'll people think why would you ever you know, scoop out all the breast tissue and put it in plants and why would Angelina Jolie do something like that, you know, especially given
15:06 She does but if you can take your risk of breast cancer from somewhere between 50 and 80% down to probably less than 5 to 10% mean that's just a huge and you know, they were certainly downsides to it. And I know people accuse me of being such a surgeon, you know what I'm saying? Well, you know what surgery surgery is good. But but the bottom line is is that is that it's so important to try to to try to bring a person's risk down as much as you can and I don't lie. I mean, I think if you went to get your car inspected and found out that there was an issue that might or might not cause you to get into a fatal car crash or even a really tough car crash, you would fix your car remove that part or whatever. So well, it is somewhat drastic, I guess to start removing body parts and it certainly brings up self-esteem issues like, you know.
16:06 Are you as much of a woman or whatever I would say that it's a lot easier to run with the implants and it is yeah, there are on but the best upside of course is that you know your risk of going through this goes down so morbidly really? Yeah, and you know in terms of the other thing is the other things you think about are one of the things that that's helped who I think is and we've gone from where we used to do mastectomies and make these big decisions and then we met went to what we called skin-sparing where we make smaller incisions and now he's gone to nipple sparing which not everybody can have but at least the people we can do it on it just helps so much. It looks so much more normal may still feel them. But at least when you're in the gym and somebody sees you across the the gym, you know, the the dressing room.
17:06 They don't know what what's happened to you. And I think you know when you can look at yourself in the mirror, I think or and just feel feel more normal. Probably. Absolutely. I think the best thing that I did after my treatment was over after my reconstruction was done and you have a great partner in my plastic surgeon who did a great job, but I did not have the nipple sparing. So I was flat, you know what it's cars and I had a 3-D nipple tattoos, which was really a cool experience, right the least painful tattoo you'll ever get because you don't have a lot of feeling there anymore and it doesn't they're so real that you almost forget course will never forget completely on nor do I want to forget her but it does make it a little easier to look in the mirror and see that for sure which is really cool. Yeah, I'm sure.
18:06 In a week, we try our best. We're constantly looking for better ways to to to reconstruct that will leave you feeling what much more normal.
18:17 So one of the things I was going to ask you is, you know, what it what did you do to during the treatment to keep yourself going? Well, I watched Friends the series on Netflix a plug for that but I know I what I really did was try to make myself as comfortable as possible when I was on my own and when I was out with people I tried to make myself as normal as possible. So I had 16 chemo treatments over 20 weeks and I worked 4 days a week during those 20 weeks the only day I took off with the day I had chemo and I was actually sometimes answering emails on those days much to my boss's you no sugar added your email. You're supposed to be enjoying yourself at chemo, you know.
19:13 But I actually did enjoy myself at chemo believe it or not. But but I I just tried to when I got home and I took off the wig took off my makeup and just did things that made me feel really comfortable and secure. I ate really healthy before during and after butt, but occasionally, you know, I would have something that I really liked from my childhood or you know of fish taco from my favorite fish taco place up the street and of course people will bring you a ton of food and the anti-nausea drugs and things that they give you now are pretty good. So so do you actually only feel really really bad maybe two or three days out of the seven?
20:05 In between treatments but yeah night while I was at chemo. I wore my wig I wore me no makeup. I wore a T-shirt and I was lucky enough to have a graphic designer good friend to mate a little symbol for my experience and we sold t-shirts to benefit a nonprofit that I'm still involved with the volunteer bright pink. And so I wore that shirt every Tuesday and a lot of my friends did to show their support for me and we had a hashtag on social media and things like that, but I always brought a friend with me to came out and I think for me what was so cool about that was it, you know in my mid-thirties. So a lot of my friends have young children or their married they've got the right in the middle of their careers, you know, they've got a lot going on.
21:02 So we really saw it as a rare and unique opportunity to spend 8 hours together uninterrupted by Mommy. I want this or honey. Can you go get this or job emails coming through? I'm so it was really cool. Cuz I had you know, 16 of my friends will couple of people came more than one so probably about a dozen of my friends my sister come and spend this time with me where we laughed we ate snacks and everyone else in the chemo room was like where they doing over there and I wasn't on any drugs, that would make me you know, right super excited.
21:44 So it's just a really cool experience and I think when you're going through something like that when you know that in 36 hours to are going to feel like you've been hit by a truck. All you're going to want to do is lay down. It was so important to me to take advantage of the time when I was with someone and really enjoy that other person and one of my friends was planning her wedding. So we looked at wedding dresses and that's funny. Yeah. It was really fun. So it was a really
22:16 Interesting time. I usually got some fried rice or something let you know right after with them and and then got to spend that time just enjoying them and enjoying chatting with your friend for 8 hours straight. So it's kind of cool but that's something that you would be good for other people to know they're going to go through chemotherapy is to you maybe two to find people, you know, like bring a friend so that they can you know have some time together and then you know, when because your friends I'm sure are wondering what they can do for you, you know, so what would you tell your friends that they because people ask me this all the time about you know, like friends of mine that has cancer and they'll say they're friends will say what do you think we should do for them? I would say clean their house but you know, I mean, I'm sure that you have much better ideas. I think house cleaning is great. I love that. I got gift cards to a house cleaning service. That was the best thing.
23:16 Really spending time with a person and cards. It's so nice. When you I would get home from a day at work. I'd be exhausted wig would be itchy. And I'd all I want to do is put my pjs on and I'd open up my mailbox and four or five cards would fall out and I'd have the opportunity to go home, you know lay down on my bed read these cards and really see again how much people care about you and I got cards from people who I hadn't talked to and 10 or 15 years, which was really cool to reconnect with some people who I had lost touch with. So like I said, it's a really
24:05 Unique time. Yeah, when you can either feel really sorry for yourself and wallow or you can use it as an opportunity. I'm so it was it was really cool. So I would say gift cards to Amazon.
24:23 And a good streaming TV service would be the things to get for someone to get them through. But yeah for sure what was kind of your inspiration during this time. Like Did you sort of have a mantra that you kept telling yourself? Like it's a finite amount of time or what it what did you do to keep yourself going like that? Will you might remember that? I had really long hair before treatment and it used to take me like an hour every couple of days to do this. I had long hair it had to be straightened was beautiful hair. But when I lost I thought man, I can't get ready so much faster, and I also thought
25:09 I can now.
25:12 Focus on something else. Everything will go back. Everything will come back. I will get through this but this is my lowest maintenance point in life and that helped and then you know,
25:28 I think my Mantra was always you've gotten through worse than this or you've seen people get through this you can actually do anything and if you get through this
25:41 You will know that you can do anything and everything else becomes easier. So it's it's funny. Someone described it as like after this you can take a nap. That's kind of a mantra for runners are Farina performance athlete right? That's how I that's kind of how I got through. It was like, okay. My last chemo is May 27th. If I can just get to that point after that it'll be over and then I will literally know that I can do anything that I set my mind to after this I can relax and that's how my life has changed. I was I'm still a little uptight, but I heard really uptight before sure but now I I pretty much know.
26:24 Come at me, you know anyting life has to offer and I'll take it because I know I've gone through worse and come out on the other side and come out for the better to yeah, absolutely mean there's you know, there's it it would be like, I'm sure like, you said so easy to just feel sorry for yourself and and and instead you just can't do that because you don't really have that that luxury because you have to get up every day and still work and still take care of things here. But I think it's it's it's very inspirational to me to see somebody change their lifestyle like you did and get more balanced because I think that that's you know, that's what everybody strives where I mean, if you could if you could put that in a bottle and sell it and Washington you could really make some money, you know, but you know, I always say I was saying, you know, it would be so nice to have that that that
27:24 Attitude without having to go through the cancer, but you have to go to the cancer to actually get that attitude. Don't you think I think so and I definitely after my treatment was over and after the cards didn't come as often in the mail and after my hair started growing back and you know, I I looked normal again. That's when I felt it a little bit more. That's when things kind of became tough. It was well, I'm a cancer survivor now do I have to open every conversation with that or I want to find a new job. Do I need to tell them that I've had cancer? I want to you know, get back out into the dating world. Is that something I have to mention? So it's the after-treatment. Is pretty tough.
28:17 I'm almost three years out from the end of my treatment. I think I'm doing pretty well. But it's taking a little while to kind of get used to what life is like now and how people treat you and the one thing I learned I switch jobs and was chatting with one of my new co-workers and I felt a kinship with him that you know, you get excited when he made a new friend and I I said something about how will you know, I had breast cancer a couple years ago and he said I am a cancer survivor to and it was like we were drawn to each other we kind of knew. So how life is different now, is it every bump every lump I feel I get nervous and freaked out and you've certainly heard those phone calls where I've asked you to check checked something out, but now I have friends who've been through it too and they can say, yep. I know I was feeling around and something weird happened and it was just as it or it was
29:17 Swollen gland or whatever it was. But that's what's new about life after cancer. Is that you become this hypochondriac who?
29:28 Doesn't know their own body necessarily anymore. And so whereas before I was like yes, this is cancer. I know my body. I know it's different. It's all a little unfamiliar still. I'm still getting used to what what normal is like for me now and what abnormal feels like and but so far I'm very healthy. And so I should should be okay. Yeah, and I think you know you're doing great. I mean, I think just getting over it psychologically to is, you know, is is amazing.
30:03 So anyway, it's been you know, it's it's great talking to you about this. It's it's nice that you're so open about it Aaron and that you know, I know you don't want to spill your guts to everybody but it's nice that you shared this with with with people so that they can know kind of how you did it because that hopefully will give them some of some ammunition if they end up in the same situation and you know, it's just it's it's amazing to me how young people like you get this diagnosis that you feel like you really shouldn't have you should be just having the time of your life and then you deal with it and you become even better people for but I just want to thank you for saving my life.
30:48 No one else would remove the slump and everyone kept saying I was fine, and I just can't thank you enough for really hearing me and hearing what I knew inside me was wrong and there been to countless women in your 32-year career who have not been able to sit across from you. So I feel so lucky that I'm here that I'm alive that I can share this message with other people, and honestly, you are such a huge part of why I'm so grateful to wake up everyday. So thank you Doctor magnet. Thank you so much.
31:33 Why you got into this field and why it's important. Sure sure. I mean I started.
31:42 Basically, I'm a general surgeon who did all kinds of surgery and then started doing research mostly clinical research when I was at Georgetown on the faculty in breast cancer. And I was I had a lot of patience I think because I was the only woman surgeon there for one thing. So then I started I started seeing a lot of patience and then I start doing some clinical research and writing some papers and giving some papers and I learned that I just really liked working with women. I mean women to me women patients are amazing because they are usually the rock of their family they you know, they are the CEO of their household in many ways. And so I feel like I have been actually privilege to help women through their breast cancer so that they can go on and live good lives and and product.
32:42 Lives and happy lives and so I started doing it for two by default and then realize how much I liked it. And so I've been it's been a really good career for me. I mean, I'm continuing I'm not going anywhere and it's it's been from me everyday has really been a good day of the last 32 years in terms of my work because I feel like women deserve women in their families and their kids and their husbands women and their families deserve to have people that really care about this field and that will will really take care of the whole the whole woman and will were firm where ever they need to go and and really try to do kind of one-stop-shopping where they can where they can just make it as easy as they can for that woman because it's so hard to to go through breast cancer treatment anyway if there's anything
33:42 That I and my colleagues can do to make it easier. Then I just feel like we're obligated to do it and we're happy to do it. So for me, it's it's just been a great career and I tell my my Millennial children. That's that it'll find something that you love to do that you feel like you're really doing something important and helping people and that you love to do everyday and for me, that's what I've been able to do.
34:13 Do you want to say anything else you feel like so now I'm just I want to thank Erin for for doing this and I called her just a few days ago. And you know, it was really nice. You cheat just jumped in and said, oh, yeah, all I would absolutely do the storycorps of course and it's so nice. It's just, you know, you're just, you know, I'm sitting here figuring out the I'm sitting here figuring out what else I can have you help me with with the women with breast cancer. That's one thing. I I am forever indebted to you. And and the other thing is I really like you and I were on my team, you know, I kept saying. Well, what do you think? Dr. Magnant thinks will Colerain, you know, if I loved all of my other providers and I was very lucky to have an all-female team and Sibley's incredible in that they
35:13 Give you a nurse Navigator and a counselor a surgeon a plastic surgeon oncologist a radiation oncologist a minute you get an A team of people geneticist you get a people what team of people to help you get through this but because you trusted me and trusted that I knew something was wrong. You are my Touchstone. Now, you know what I felt a lump in my neck and my other doctor said it was fine. I said, what can we call Doctor magnet and have her read it too and I worried she gets offended but at the end of the day, I don't care because you are the one you're the one so thank you for asking me and I will do anything you say forever and I have your cell phone. Yes, exactly.