‘I’m on top of the world’: Miles City woman beats breast cancer with high-tech care
In March, a quick visit to the doctor for Vickie Chamberlain went from a routine check-up for soreness after she bumped into a door to something far more serious.
“I honestly didn’t even realize that’s what it was,” said the Miles City woman. “Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind. I thought it was just bruised.”
A longtime Miles City resident, Chamberlain was diagnosed with breast cancer soon after and has spent the past seven months receiving care and treatment both at home and in Billings.
But thanks to sophisticated detection technology and a quick response by her and the medical professionals treating her, she recently finished up treatment and believes she’s well on her way to a full recovery.
“Right now, I’m on top of the world,” she said.
When Chamberlain visited Holy Rosary Healthcare after a door hit her in the chest, an ensuing mammogram revealed that she had a tumor in her right breast. That same day, she had an ultrasound and a biopsy of the tissue and a few days later, she learned that she had breast cancer.
She set up a plan — meeting with staff from Holy Rosary and its sister hospital in Billings, St. Vincent Healthcare — and within two weeks of diagnosis had a mastectomy to remove her right breast.
The initial diagnosis in Miles City was aided by the use of digital tomosythensis, a mammography technique that uses state-of-the-art technology to take a three-dimensional image of the breast.
It takes multiple images from different angles to create the 3-D image, which can pick up tiny irregularities, result in swifter and more accurate diagnoses and can reduce call-back appointments by 20 to 40 percent.
A few weeks after the breast cancer diagnosis, she began receiving chemotherapy in Miles City, which lasted six weeks and ended in June.
“I was really surprised with myself,” Chamberlain said of her reaction to the treatment. “I don’t remember feeling really sick, but I was a little nauseous.”
After a monthlong break, which included a family vacation to Hebgen Lake, she came to Billings to begin six weeks of radiation therapy at the St. Vincent’s Frontier Cancer Center.
During that time, she lived in Billings on the weekdays, spending free time with a niece who lives in town and getting to know the staff at the center. She returned to Miles City to be with family on the weekends.
“She was nice, strong, grateful and courageous,” said Dr. Marty Lucas, a medical oncologist at Frontier Cancer Center. “She’s done well. Anyone who goes through this has their hardships, but she has done well. She has kept her spirit and had no unusual complications.
While she’ll have occasional appointments over the next six months to check her progress and see if anything has changed, Chamberlain wrapped up her treatment in September, just in time to return to Miles City for the birth of her grandson.
She credits much the positive outcome, and her attitude throughout, to knowing she had to be strong for her grandson. She also says her late husband, who died in 2013, played a role.
“He always promised that if anything ever happened, he would carry me through,” she said. “I just feel like he’s been here for me the entire time.”
Receiving treatment at both hospitals — each within two hours of home — also allowed Chamberlain to keep up with family and be in a more comfortable environment while healing.
Lucas said that being able to stay closer to home can have a huge effect on patients’ well-being and that in Chamberlain’s case, she was able to receive care usually found at larger hospitals.
“It means a huge amount to patients because it’s better to be home,” she said. “You feel better at home. The fact that they feel like they are getting what they’d get in a big city, but they still are in Miles City, it helps all the way around and it shows them that the medical comm cares about them personally.”
Throughout the treatment, Chamberlain made a point to get out and be around people to “just be me” and to keep herself healthy.
She also hopes others can learn from her and get checked out, even if it’s something that seems small.
“I learned that everybody needs to just try to be as brave as they can be, go through every step and fight as long and as hard as you can,” Chamberlain said. “Even when I didn’t feel good, I would put on a smile and go out anyway.”