For the Miami Valley Today
TROY — Gwendolyn “Gwen” Pace has always been proactive about her health. So, when she found a lump on her left breast during a self-exam last fall, she took immediate action.
After contacting nurse practitioner Josefina Ferree, Pace quickly was seen for testing and a visit with surgeon Patrick Larreategui, DO, before surgery in late December. During that time, she was connected to Heather Penwell, a patient navigator at Upper Valley Medical Center.
“She called me the day after I saw Dr. Larreategui. She is really an asset to that program. She navigates a lot of stuff very well,” Pace said of Penwell.
A Troy resident for the past 25 years, Pace is a native of Columbus and has been legally blind all her life. She is an ordained minister.
She came to Troy to volunteer for a local minister after operating a restaurant in Springfield. She is active in the community including coordinating two Martin Luther King Jr. observances in Troy in the 2000s in partnership with the Troy Hayner Cultural Center and then-Mayor Mike Beamish.
Pace was familiar with services offered by Premier Health and Upper Valley Medical Center. She has received care at the hospital for 20 years, from Ferree for three years, and has been working with Georges Yacoub, MD, following diagnosis of COPD two years ago.
“Premier Health is holistic, practices preventive health, and is very comprehensive” she said. “They have all kinds of services available for whatever need you might have.”
Pace’s breast cancer surgery, which excised two breast masses, went well and she was able to go home later the day of surgery. “Dr. Larreategui was so attentive. He took time to talk to me, talk to my sister and tell me what to expect after surgery,” she said. “He took time for me as an individual and is very personable.”
Also attentive: Ronald Setzkorn, MD, a radiation oncologist, and Rajeev Kulkarni, MD, an oncologist, the other physicians she is working with on her journey.
Pace woke up talking after surgery and now works to keep a positive outlook as she undergoes a series of radiation treatments. She was shown a video about what to expect with radiation but still is somewhat apprehensive, Pace admitted.
She admits this is a “dark time” in her life, one she doesn’t want to be going through. “You choose how you go through life’s dark times. I choose to be optimistic and positive and let the light of God’s word (the Bible) guide me through,” she said. “Find a way to make the bittersweet has been my mantra. When life hands you a lemon, turn it into lemonade.”
A strong support system has been a blessing throughout her life, Pace said, noting she cannot drive so she needs assistance with transportation and other tasks. Partners in Hope and Director Carol Jackson in Troy have been a huge help, she said, as have others.
As an oncology patient navigator, Penwell supports patients throughout their journey. “I help to educate on a patient’s disease process and treatments and provide emotional support. I also help connect patients with supportive services and assist to eliminate barriers,” she said.
Navigators try to get involved with patients as soon as possible. In the case of breast cancer patients, that is now often prior to their biopsy, Penwell said.
Dr. Larreategui said Pace had two different types of cancer in the breast, one invasive and the other noninvasive. Her case information was brought before a UVMC multi-disciplinary cancer conference including radiologists, pathologists, surgeons, oncologists, and navigators to review the case facts and discuss the best route of care.
“Gwen was very open to that,” Dr. Larreategui said. The team chose to remove a wide area around the two cancer masses and to do a lymph node biopsy. Pace was found to have a low stage cancer and has recovered well, he said.
Her diligence to monitoring her health and her positive attitude were welcome, Dr. Larreategui said. “Despite having other health challenges, her overwhelming positivity was fantastic. She not only meets those challenges, but lives a very full and enjoyable life,” he said.