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Southlake Style

Partners in Pink: A Local Survivor Story

Sep 12, 2011 12:28PM ● By Mike
As seen in Southlake Style October 2008

Debbie Morris never knew that her tenth stop in the journey of life would be the most important. As a registered nurse, wife and mother she had already devoted her life to serving her patients, her loving husband and three children. When her husband Rod, a suc¬cessful logistics executive for more than 30 years asked Debbie to move yet again she knew it was time to pack her bags. After living in nine different locations from the East to West Coasts and several in between, “What was one more?” she asked.

With the kids having already graduated college and on their own, Debbie and Rod packed up their belongings, said good-bye to another group of friends and moved from Mission Viejo, California to Argyle, Texas. Debbie admits Argyle is on the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to Mission Viejo and the move did, “take some adjustments”. Despite not wanting to leave all that they loved about California, Debbie and Rod were excited to be closer to their Oklahoma roots.

After thirty years of nursing experience that ranged from labor and delivery nursing, nursing director, and clinical coordinator in cardiovascular surgery, Debbie decided to, “Take some time for her.” She is not one to sit back and relax for too long. On the contrary, she decided to step away from nursing management and its demands. She found an opportunity as a per diem nurse which allowed her to focus on what she loves most, taking care of others. “I like to have the ability to work solely for the benefit of patients” says Debbie, “I find it much more enjoyable than administrative tasks.”

March 2006
In March of 2006 Debbie began working 30 hours a week at Harris Methodist Southlake (HMS). She immediately grew to love working at HMS, which is only 15 miles south of her new home. Better than the commute, was the fact that the work en¬vironment was unlike any other she had experi¬enced in her career. Debbie realized that Harris Methodist Southlake was actually partly owned by the practicing physicians and that made for an environment where the health care providers have more input regarding patient care. Furthermore, she was among many of her peers, “the nurse to patient ratio is very good” she said, “and because of this infection rates are very low and overall, pa¬tients get the best care possible.” She thoroughly enjoyed her time there as an operating room nurse working alongside Dr. Mary Brian, a renowned physician specializing in breast cancer.

August 15, 2007
It’s the way things are; dentists have great teeth, stylists have beautiful hair and female health care providers get their annuals…annually. In August of 2007 Debbie was taking care of her annual check ups just like she had done religiously for years. De¬spite working for Dr. Brian, Debbie had obtained services from physicians in Denton to whom her medical records had been sent when she moved to Texas. Even though she was a nurse for her entire working life, Debbie was shocked and concerned when the call came, “I was told the results were ab¬normal, I needed to come back for more testing” she said.

August 16, 2007
After a second trip to Denton the results of her di¬agnostic ultrasound confirmed she had two suspi¬cious nodules and suggested she have a biopsy as soon as possible. At this point Debbie admitted, “As a registered nurse, I knew only enough to know I was in trouble.” She wanted a second opinion. She wanted to take her results to her friend, the doctor who she had worked with side by side since moving to Texas.

August 17, 2007
The very next day, results in hand, she consulted with Dr. Brian. Debbie had already seen Dr. Brian in action and knew, “She takes good care of all of her pa¬tients” and to this day, “I feel very fortunate to have had Dr. Brian available to me.” Holding the charts, Dr. Brian quickly agreed the results of the mammo¬gram were compelling enough to warrant immediate action. Debbie agreed to a biopsy that very day. The Harris Methodist Southlake nurse, the woman who worked side by side with Dr. Brian was now officially under her care. Debbie was led to the adjacent offices of Breast Diagnostics of North Texas where Dr. Brian completed the biopsy.

Debbie’s mind perpetually raced and she found waiting for the results of the biopsy nothing short of excruciating. “I was prepared mentally,” Deb¬bie admitted, “But, not knowing was the hardest part.” Looking back on her life was a point of comfort in these very trying times. Debbie had always eaten well, exercised and never touched cigarettes. Her grandmother had succumbed to cervical cancer when she was in her 30’s, but there was no history of breast cancer in Debbie’s family. Despite staying clear of many of the inherent risk factors there are some that just cannot be avoided. Like half of the world’s population, Debbie is a woman and she is getting older – two of the top risk factors listed by the Susan G. Komen Founda¬tion. That is why so many organizations, including health care plans, suggest women over the age of 40 have a mammogram performed annually.

Finally, the news came from Dr. Brian. The good news, it was detected early, the bad news, “It” was Stage 1 lobular carcinoma, a malignant growth in the part of the breast that produces milk. In most cases this early stage tumor is roughly 2 centimeters in size and has not yet spread to other areas. However, if left unchecked this type of cancer can and will spread to surrounding breast tis¬sue. In more severe cases it could even spread throughout the body and its major organs.

The tendril-like growth patterns of lobular carcinoma took away the opportunities for a less invasive lumpectomy. Be¬cause of the invasive nature of the cancer Debbie followed the suggestions of her doctor and opted for a bilateral mastectomy. It was a radical decision to remove both breasts even though only one had a known tumor at the time. As a nurse dealing with several breast cancer patients a day, Debbie had already come to the conclusion that if she ever contracted the disease she would be, “as aggressive as possible.” With courage and confidence from her nursing experience the appointment for the operation was made.

August 29, 2007
Exactly two weeks after a routine mammogram proved to be life altering, Debbie checked in to Harris Methodist Southlake and headed to the operating room. On this day she would do so as a patient. Before the day’s end, Debbie would be begin¬ning a brighter future.

Many positive things came about as a result of her diagnosis including the interactions with her friends and family. Debbie says, “I didn’t know how important my job was until I was a patient.” She states, “The support from my family and my faith in God allowed me to face the day with confidence.” Why not be confident? She had the assurance of the outstanding OR Team at Harris Methodist Southlake who is dedicated to car¬ing for their patients and co-workers. Furthermore, she had one of Texas’ best breast cancer surgeons in Dr. Brian.

Dr. Brian attended the University of Arizona and completed her residency training at The University of Texas Medical School in Houston. She served in the United States Navy pri¬or to moving to North Texas in 1990, and established a very successful practice centrally located in Bedford, Texas. Her practice, The Breast Care Center of North Texas, is where Dr. Brian built her reputation in breast surgery while providing her Tarrant County patients with innovative procedures such as sentinel node biopsies and ultrasound directed biopsies. On this day, Dr. Brian would be conducting a bilateral mastectomy in a small, yet personal hospital where her vision and the vision of her fellow investors was being carried out every day. Not only had Dr. Brian invested her career for the betterment of breast health, she also has partnered with Harris Methodist Southlake in the vi¬sion that such a hospital could successfully give patients true compassionate care in an intimate setting. Debbie appreciatively says, “Dr. Brian is an unsung hero. She is there during the darkest times of her patient’s lives,” and that is what patients need most. Sure, with the prevalence of today’s technology a successful procedure can be had at many facilities, but at Harris Methodist Southlake it is the people behind the machinery, people like Dr. Brian, that truly make a difference.

Immediately after the mastectomy Dr. Jonathan Heistein, a skilled reconstructive surgeon performed the procedure to help Debbie gain back her original form. Dr. Heistein inserted tissue expanders, special breast implants that can be filled gradually to regain a natural shape thus meeting a patient’s post operative needs.

August 30 & 31, 2007
Both operations were successful and Debbie was taken to her overnight suite at the hospital. It was there that she spent the next two days recovering. Dr. Brian and Dr. Heistein dropped in repeatedly to make sure there were no complications. A nurse was assigned to attend to the surgical site and help manage the pain, a priceless service which Debbie had performed herself countless times.

September 1, 2007 – the road to recovery
Her first day back home was made a bit easier thanks to Debbie’s sister, also a registered nurse. Debbie says, “It was the best of both worlds to have your sister and a nurse take care of me.” Doctor’s orders were for four days of bed rest followed by brief peri¬ods of activity. Physical therapy and Pilates sessions helped her regain the strength lost during surgery and recovery. Over the weeks to come, there was some pain and discomfort but Debbie continued to regain her strength. Eventually her tissue expanders were exchanged for breast implants which helped complete her aesthetic reconstruction.

October 1, 2007 – back to work
Amazingly six weeks after the abnormal mammogram Debbie had received; treat¬ment, reconstructive surgery and all the support she needed to make a quick recov¬ery. On October 1st, she was ready, willing and able to go back to the, “Other side of the bed as a nurse.” Prior to her own personal experiences, Debbie enjoyed work¬ing at Harris Methodist Southlake and now having come full circle she loved and respected her chosen workplace even more. “My managers were great,” explained Debbie, “they allowed me flexible work hours and offered me time off whenever I needed it.” The administrative staff at Harris Methodist Southlake prides themselves on maintaining an enjoyable work experience. The fact that a satisfied staff helps en¬sure a satisfied patient is not lost in the day to day operations of this local hospital.
Debbie was exhilarated by her experiences in recent weeks, appreciative of the care and support she received and most of all, she had the desire to help others in her community. Debbie realized, “I hope that the information I share will give hope to women and their families dealing with the challenges of breast cancer and recovery.” So she proposed the first Wednesday of the month be “Breast Cancer Awareness Day” at the hospital. The proposal was approved and now, the hospital staff is encouraged to wear pink in support of patients and breast cancer awareness. Informational brochures are always available at the hospital and at local health fairs attended by Debbie and other staff members.

August 15, 2008
Exactly one year to the day, Debbie posed for a photo for this issue of Southlake Style. It is amazing the difference one year can make. From the outside looking in, not much has changed; the camera still picks up a vibrant smile and even in freeze frame Debbie’s energy is palpable. Yet from the inside, she is a changed woman; forever stronger and mindful from the condition she has overcome.

Today, standing beside Dr. Mary Brian there are now two women enthusiasti¬cally devoted to breast cancer. Dr. Brian has taken her care of breast cancer patients to the next level by providing much needed post operative support. Along with two other colleagues, Dr. Brian established the Tex¬as Chrysalis Foundation, a non-profit organiza¬tion which funds programs for the many breast cancer survivors in Southlake, Bedford, and Fort Worth. Funding from the Texas Chrysalis Foundation supports a multi-faceted program called The N.E.A.T. Program® (an acronym for Nutrition, Exercise and Attitudes for Tomor¬row) which uses diet and exercise to combat the side effects of nausea and fatigue resulting from chemotherapy and radiation. Dr. Brian hopes to one day provide these services to patients across the country.

Debbie too has started her own support group which she calls “Peers for Pink”. It is her way to, “Give back and do what I can to make a difference in someone’s life.” Peers for Pink has a goal to make others active in creating awareness for breast can¬cer through health fairs and charitable fund raisers. Whether it is the cause or Debbie’s infectious en¬thusiasm has yet to be decided (I believe it is both). Regardless, she has found it easy to get volunteers to help pass out pamphlets and walk beside her in this year’s Race for the Cure in Dallas this October 18th. Debbie’s network of friends extends to each and every one of the ten places she has called home and she plans to reach out to them all to spread the word. Before she walks in Dallas this month, she will have already gathered her friends from Mis¬sion Viejo to walk for a cure in California.

Dr. Brian has devoted her career to breast cancer because she believes, “[It] is a disease with a very hard recovery, both physically and emotionally.” Debbie Morris has seen both sides of the coin as a patient and nurse and now feels extremely grateful and blessed to have had the care she received from Dr. Brian and the staff at Harris Methodist South¬lake, her hospital. She faithfully goes on to say, “It wasn’t just by chance that we moved here. I was in the right place at the right time.” Modest, grate¬ful and compassionate both Dr. Brian and Deb¬bie Morris continually show their true colors not only as caregivers but as special members of the Pink Community”.