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Breast Cancer Survivor Keeps Hope Alive

Paula Rogers knows the difference that a simple act of kindness can make.

Paula Rogers knows the difference that a simple act of kindness can make.

As she was being wheeled into surgery for her second bout with breast cancer, Rogers’ doctor, V. Suzanne Klimberg, M.D., took her hand.

“It was remarkable,” she said. “Dr. Klimberg took my hand and led the gurney to the operating room. I went to sleep with her holding my hand.”

When Rogers awoke, she clearly remembered her doctor’s comforting touch.

“It meant so much for her to hold my hand,” she said. “I want the world to know that’s the kind of doctor I have.”

After finding a lump in her breast during a self-exam, Rogers was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in April 2008. She said that she found “the best team in the world” when she arrived at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.

Her treatment began with 16 weeks of chemotherapy directed by medical oncologist Issam Makhoul, M.D., associate professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine.

“Words cannot describe Dr. Makhoul. He is knowledgeable, comforting and skilled,” she said. “And top it off, he’s just a cool guy.”

After it was determined that her chemo was successful, Rogers was approached by Klimberg about becoming the first patient at UAMS to undergo reconstructive surgery at the same time as her mastectomy. After weighing her options she agreed and now is grateful to have had the opportunity.

Klimberg is chief of the Division of Breast Surgical Oncology and professor in the Departments of Surgery and Pathology in the UAMS College of Medicine.

“I know that everyone isn’t eligible to have the two surgeries completed at one time, so I’m grateful that I was able to do so,” she said, adding that she is very pleased with the results performed by her reconstructive surgeon James Yuen, M.D., professor in the UAMS College of Medicine and chief of the UAMS Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

For the next three years, Rogers enjoyed good health. Then, in April 2011, she made a disturbing discovery. After being instructed by her doctors to continue checking her breast implants for changes or abnormalities, she felt an unusual lump.

“I was used to feeling the scar tissue that had developed in my incision, but this was different. It was located in the same place as my original tumor,” she said.

Without hesitation, she returned to her team at UAMS and underwent chemo, surgery and radiation to eliminate the recurrence.

Her treatment lasted a total of eight months, and while she called her two bouts with cancer “a long journey,” Rogers never lost her hope.

“I had so much support, it was hard not to stay positive,” she said. That support network included her daughter who joined her at every doctor’s appointment and even took a temporary job at Rogers’ place of employment to provide daily help and support.

Her friends also started the “Paula Rogers Campaign,” sending out a call for prayers and encouragement through email, social media, church groups and word of mouth. “People from all over the world were praying for me. It taught me about the real meaning of love,” she said.

Now, Rogers’ is back to good health and her daily routine as an artist and educational manager for an afterschool and summer program serving kids in central Arkansas.

“Staying hopeful and having faith got me through. Since my first diagnosis, I’ve seen my son go to college, and I’ve had a grandson. These are grateful moments,” she said.

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