OCEAN COUNTY – When Maybelline Hicks went to the doctor for help with a simple cold, she left with more than she bargained for.
After suffering a bad cold, Hicks had a cough that she just couldn’t kick. When prescription medications failed to do the trick, her doctor suggested an x-ray.
In December 2017, Hicks received shocking news: she had breast cancer.
“I didn’t believe him. I told him that my mom didn’t die of breast cancer, and that I don’t smoke, I don’t drink or do drugs. And I had a mammogram in September,” said Hicks, of Lakehurst, remembering the moment she received the news.
Her breast cancer was confirmed with a needle biopsy by diagnostic radiologist Patrick O’Connor, D.O., at Hackensack Meridian Health Ocean Medical Center (OMC), who then recommended she see a breast surgeon. So Hicks made an appointment with Yolanda Tammaro, M.D.
“Any time a patient comes to me with a breast cancer diagnosis, we have a very lengthy discussion regarding all the treatment options,” said Dr. Tammaro, director of breast surgery at OMC and Southern Ocean Medical Center. “She was an excellent candidate for breast conservation surgery, a lumpectomy, and we discussed the treatment that often follows.”
Hicks elected to go forward with the minimally invasive procedure to remove the lesion and some nearby lymph nodes. A few weeks prior to her procedure, Dr. Tammaro used a relatively new device to help her locate the lump during the surgical procedure. She implanted a small reflector within the lesion, and later, when surgery began, she used the probe of a small radar monitor to pinpoint the reflector.
“This is more convenient for people who are candidates for this surgery…previously, the morning of surgery, we would have to insert a thin wire into the lesion that would extend outside of the breast. Because this chip can be inserted up to 30 days prior to the procedure, it cuts down the time that the patient has to be inconvenienced for what can be an outpatient procedure,” she explained.
Two weeks after the lumpectomy, Maybelline returned to Dr. Tammaro’s office for a partial radiation delivery system. Dr. Tammaro implanted a balloon in the space where the lesion had been. Tubes from the balloon are connected to a device in the radiation treatment suite.
“This delivers radiation from the inside out,” said Dr. Tammaro, which is highly targeted, and helps to spare other healthy tissue.
Hicks went for treatments twice a day for five days where she was cheered on by Dr. Miler.
“That was so significant, because you are afraid and you feel like you’re in it all by yourself.” That fear was understandable, but Maybelline didn’t dwell on it for long. “My husband was super supportive,” she said. “Cancer is an ugly disease, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence.”
After enduring the worst of it, Hicks is on the mend and getting back to her old self. She is using her time and her background in fashion into helping other women with breast cancer. She is working on a special design for a prettier bra that can accommodate the tubes that trail out of the balloon while it’s in place.
“Her optimism contributed to how well she did. Despite her diagnosis, it didn’t change her spirit or the kind of person she is. And now she really wants to help,” said Dr. Tammaro.
For information about Hackensack Meridian Health’s cancer services, visit HackensackMeridianHealth.org/Cancer. To make an appointment with a physician, call 800-560-9990.